•  Alabama’s academic achievement and growth indicators are weighted significantly in elementary, middle and high school. In addition, the state includes a growth indicator in high school.


  • The state goes beyond what is required for identifying schools for comprehensive support. Alabama plans to identify the bottom six percent of Title I schools and schools with a graduation rate that is more than 10 percent below the state’s average graduation rate as schools in need of support – which, theoretically, will allow more schools and students to receive the supports needed to be successful.


  • To support struggling schools, Alabama recently created an Office of School Improvement and Turnaround.




  • Alabama’s plan lacks detail. Most concerning, the state does not articulate how it will calculate academic growth, nor have they selected an assessment.


  • Alabama’s plan notes that its standards and assessments are aligned and rigorous, but does not provide information or data to support that claim. Without this information, it is difficult to meaningfully assess several elements of the plan.


  • The state’s long-term goals will continue to leave many Alabama children unprepared for success after high school, particularly low-income students, children of color, English learners, and students with disabilities.


  • Due to insufficient details regarding how individual student subgroups will be incorporated into the statewide system, it is not clear how disaggregated subgroup accountability will be calculated.


Click through the tabs on the left to see how Alabama scored in each category.



Alabama has several lofty and admirable goals, but is frequently short on specifics on how to achieve them.


The state’s goals include: preparing graduates, creating multiple pathways to careers and higher education, maintaining superior educator preparation programs, supporting continuous improvement of world-class educators, creating equitable and accountable systems, promoting healthy and safe systems and schools, and truly engaging family and communities.


Alabama’s long-term achievement goal is to reduce the percentage of students who do not reach proficiency by half by 2030. The percentage goal is both ambitious and attainable, yet the 13-year-timeframe raises concerns. The state should provide evidence as to why this timeframe is appropriate based on past performance.


Similar to the state’s achievement goal, Alabama’s long-term high school graduation rate goal is to decrease the percentage of non-graduating students by 50 percent by 2030.


English learners in Alabama would be expected to be proficient in English within eight years (although the plan says seven years, the first year isn’t counted). However, it is difficult to determine the feasibility of their short-term and long-term targets because the state didn’t provide baseline data to give context on the ambition and attainability of these goals.



An overall lack of detail in Alabama’s plan around standards and assessments makes it difficult to assess if they are high-quality and aligned to college and career readiness.


There is little specific information about the state’s revised math and English Language Arts standards, other than they were developed with input from Course of Study Committees. The plan would be strengthened with evidence that the standards are high quality and prepare Alabama students for college-level work.


Alabama makes almost no mention of the state’s assessment system except to say that “the assessments system will be completely aligned to these standards and will effectively measure the state’s ability to help students master the same.”


Alabama had been administering the ACT Aspire assessment, but the state board recently decided to transition away from this system. The plan details reading and math assessments, but doesn’t mention measuring writing skills, which are critical to postsecondary success. There is concern that the state does not have enough time to develop assessments that are meaningful, effective, and aligned to standards.


Alabama would benefit from engaging English learner and disability groups to improve assessment accessibility efforts and ensure equal access for these students.


Alabama does not offer assessments in languages other than English at present, although the plan states that they will begin to provide assessments in multiple languages beginning in 2018-19.


While Alabama indicates that students with the most significant cognitive disabilities will be assessed using an alternate assessment that is aligned to the academic achievement standards in the state, the plan does not discuss strategies that will be put in place to specifically meet the needs of students with disabilities, and how inclusion in the general assessment will support ambitious goals for achievement and graduation.


The state should provide the steps it will take to ensure that the state does not exceed the 1 percent cap on participation in the alternate assessments



Alabama’s plan includes a list of high-quality indicators to measure goals and improve student outcomes, but lacks specificity on how growth will be measured at each level.


At the elementary and middle school levels, academic achievement and growth represent 80 percent of the score, with English Language Proficiency (ELP) at five percent and chronic absenteeism at 15 percent. For schools with a 12th grade, achievement and growth will count for 45 percent, graduation rate at 30 percent, ELP at five percent, chronic absenteeism at 10 percent, and college and career readiness at 10 percent.


It is unique that Alabama will include growth as an indicator in high school and the state should be commended for doing so. However, the plan lacks specificity on how growth will be measured, a consequential missing piece


The plan mentions that students will be identified as career and college ready by completing one of six options, but it is not clear exactly what is meant in each option or how a school or district should implement these options with fidelity.


Alabama will include both four- and five-year high school graduation rates, but doesn’t specify whether it will equally weight the two graduation rates.


If the state plans to equally weight the two graduation rates, it may not send an adequate signal of the importance of on-time graduation.


Alabama needs to clarify details of its “chronic absenteeism” indicator.


Alabama currently defines its “chronic absenteeism” indicator as the “percentage of students missing 15 or more days in each school year.” Further clarification is needed. For example, does this total include both excused and unexcused absences?



Alabama gives equal weight to proficiency and growth at the elementary and middle school levels and increases the weight in schools with 12th grade by five percent.


Alabama’s plan to place a smaller weight on student proficiency for high schools (20 percent) than for the growth measure (25 percent) and the highest weight (30 percent) on the graduation rate is especially troubling given their attempt to automatically award alternative diplomas to students taking an alternate assessment.


Alabama needs to provide more information about their alternative achievement standards and aligned assessment.


Students using alternative standards and assessments are awarded an alternate diploma and are included in their graduation rate indicator but at the same time, the weight for ELP progress (five percent) is too low. The risk of this balance is insufficient attention to actual grade-level performance and to English learners in the state.


Moreover, a big point of contention in the Alabama plan is the lack of detail regarding how growth will be measured and the assessments that will be utilized to measure this growth.



Alabama’s accountability system lacks details on how it will count and report on student subgroups — a lost opportunity to focus attention on equity.


Alabama’s plan indicates that a summative score based on a 100-point scale will be used for each district, school and the state. However,  it is not clear whether and how much the state will include disaggregated outcomes for each student subgroup in the overall rating.


Alabama chose a minimum group size of 20 for inclusion in the accountability system, arguing that it is sufficient and statistically reliable, while still protecting student privacy. However, the state’s data shows that using a group size of 20 will result in multiple subgroups of students being left out of the accountability system in a significant number of schools.


Alabama should separate former English learners from the “English learner” subgroup in order to ensure that the data is accurate, meaningful and that current English learners receive appropriate supports to be successful.


Alabama elected to include former English learners in the “English learner” subgroup for accountability purposes. However, the state failed to specify how long former English learners would be included in the English learner subgroup. The inclusion of former English learners after they exit English learner services could mask the performance of current English learners,. Because Alabama establishes a lengthy seven-year expectation for English learners to achieve language proficiency, this concern may be particularly acute, and the decision to include former English learners could obscure data about the progress of students actively receiving language supports even more.


The state should consider taking steps to make sure historically marginalized students participate in assessments.


Any school that does not meet the 95 percent participation rate for statewide assessments for two consecutive years will receive a reduction of 2 percent on their summative score. However, the effect of this rule may be minimal, and the plan would be stronger if it included additional steps that will be taken to ensure that historically marginalized students are being included in the assessment.



Alabama should be commended for deciding to identify the bottom six percent of schools, but the plan should detail why the six percent threshold was selected.


Alabama’s plan outlines that schools in the bottom six percent, with graduation rates more than 10 percent below the state average graduation rate, and chronically underperforming subgroups, will be targeted.


Alabama’s decision to identify the bottom six percent (beyond the statutory requirement of five percent) of schools for comprehensive support should be commended. This will allow more schools and students to receive the supports they need to be successful. However, the plan does not include any data or evidence indicating why the six percent threshold was selected.


Alabama should also be commended for its approach for identifying schools with a graduation rate more than 10 percent below the state average graduation rate.


Currently, the state’s average graduation rate is 87 percent. That would mean the state is identifying schools with a graduation rate below 77 percent, which is 10 percentage points higher than what is required under ESSA. However, it was unclear whether the threshold for identification would change, thus not giving schools a clear benchmark of achievement. In other words, one year the threshold for identification could be 77 percent and the following year it could be 70 percent, depending on the state’s graduation performance.


Alabama will identify schools with one or more student subgroups performing at or below the level of the lowest performing schools over three years without showing improvement for targeted support.


Given the state’s plan to identify more schools for comprehensive support than the law requires, this methodology sets a higher than minimum performance threshold. However, the three-year definition for “consistently underperforming” allows schools struggling to serve all students and those students without support and intervention to go unsupported for too long. Additionally, the state sets no bar for defining the level of improvement required to avoid identification. If that standard is too low, minimal fluctuations in performance could allow schools with significant performance gaps to avoid intervention. Alabama provides no data regarding how many schools fit its criteria for identification.



The state recently created an Office of School Improvement and Turnaround to create and review policies for school improvement and intervention, but more information is needed


The technical assistance and supports described are admirable, however, there is little detail to permit complete analysis at this point. In addition, increasing staff to provide the various levels of tiered support outlined in the plan may be challenging, as details about how this would be developed and funded are lacking.


As Alabama’s Office of School Improvement and Turnaround review the resource allocations that will help to serve identified schools, it should ensure that stakeholders from historically marginalized communities, such as parents of color, parents of English learners and parents of students with disabilities are included in the planning stages.


The state will also provide technical assistance by periodically reviewing comprehensive school improvement plans. This will be offered through a variety of supports to schools and districts that will include generic offerings, such as on-site technical assistance, off-site training sessions, embedded professional learning, virtual learning experiences, guidance documents, and templates to support needs assessment, improvement planning, implementation and monitoring. The state mentioned pursuing evidence-based support, but the plan for implementing these measures is lacking.


Alabama provides no indication that the state will take aggressive action to support persistently struggling schools with evidence-based strategies.


The support system described is entirely process-oriented, focusing on needs assessment and plan development and monitoring. These steps are insufficient, and the plan is non-committal to any specific action even where more rigorous intervention is warranted.


Alabama does not provide detail on how it plans to use the 7 percent of federal funds intended for school improvement activities.


The state needs to indicate whether it will award those funds by formula or through a competitive process. The state should also indicate if and how it intends to provide direct student services using the optional 3 percent set-aside.

Exiting Improvement Status


Alabama provides minimal detail about requirements for schools to exit improvement status.


For Alabama schools to exit comprehensive support, they must perform above the bottom six percent of schools and maintain improvement for two consecutive years. While the requirement for sustained improvement suggests some rigor above a purely normative exit requirement, the plan fails to define a threshold for improvement that the state will require.


The state could strengthen its plan by identifying objective performance targets that demonstrate real, sustained progress and provide greater front-end transparency for schools.


In the exit criteria for additional targeted support and improvement, Alabama references closing the gap between identified subgroups. It is not clear what this means or how it relates to the rest of the system.

Continuous Improvement


While Alabama details stakeholder engagement during the development of the state’s plan, it is not clear whether Alabama plans to engage stakeholders in the future.


Alabama describes several ways that stakeholders were involved, including multiple workgroups and a community engagement tour across the state to introduce residents to ESSA and the state’s plan. However, the plan lacks an explanation of how the state will modify its implementation efforts. It is not clear whether Alabama will continue to engage stakeholders as it moves forward. It is also unclear whether parents of marginalized communities such as students who are low-income, students of color, students with disabilities and English learners will continue to be consulted as districts outline implementation plans.

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