“We are at the tipping point of doing something great,” said Dr. Tommy Bice during the State Board of Education work session Feb. 23rd, as he rolled out his proposed strategy, “Plan 2020,” in his second month as Alabama’s State Superintendent. (Link to Plan 2020 Presentation)
The strategic plan stresses the importance of building on recent gains in student achievement by placing greater emphasis on preparation for real world challenges. “We not only want every child to graduate; we want every child prepared for college work and adulthood in the 21st Century,” said Dr. Bice. “Prepared means that students are gaining not just knowledge but the ability to apply knowledge.”
ACT, the college admissions test, determines “readiness scores” that indicate whether a student is likely to be successful in college level work. Based on data from 2011, only 18% of Alabama students achieved the benchmark score or above on all four sections of the ACT exam, and among the students admitted to college, 34% had to take remedial courses. When we contrast results of students on the Alabama high school graduation exam — passed by 95% of Alabama’s students — it is clear that there is a gap between expectations for a high school diploma and the level of work expected of students who attend college.
“Let’s own it, and let’s work together to do something about it,” said Dr. Bice, referring to the startling statistics.
Plan 2020 outlines four priorities, including the ‘learners,’ the support systems, the school systems and the professionals. Dr. Bice explained that all of these have to function together like an “eco-system” to meet the following objectives:
1) Improve student growth and achievement.
2) Close the achievement gap.
3) Increase the graduation rate.
4) Increase the number of students that are college and career-ready.
The plan includes metrics for measuring progress. The board will “set targets and continuously review and prioritize what is working.
Among the strategies outlined, Dr. Bice noted that bringing about a more unified system from prekindergarten to the business world is imperative to creating a successful and powerful workforce in Alabama. Alabama is among only eight states without some sort of “P-20” collaborative body including representatives from pre-k, K-12, higher education and the workforce that reviews the state’s entire educational pipeline to address systemic problems that occur because of the lack of coordination between the separate entities.
Another challenge in preparing each student successfully, according to Dr. Bice, is in the structure of the support systems in each school.
“Students should enter the 9th grade with a 4-year plan based on their individual skills, talents and interests,” explained Dr. Bice, as he described the ideal learning environment he hopes Plan 2020 will promote. Strategies are designed to increase the attendance rate, elevate rigor and engagement in the classroom, foster cultural and behavioral improvements (by reducing disciplinary infractions), promote improved health services, and above all, “to get guidance counselors back to doing what they are supposed to be doing.”
Dr. Bice acknowledged that with the constant reduction in funding, many guidance counselors have become “assistant principals,” carrying the load of extraordinary duties that hinder them from guiding each student on a path of individual success. In his plan, adequate funding is paramount. But he also stated the reality of those limitations.
“We have to help our systems find ways to be more creative, granting them more flexibility,” said Dr. Bice, “so that we are resourcing and supporting them based on the unique needs of the system.”
“Recent reports on the remarkable improvements in reading and math demonstrate that when we set goals, provide support and focus on outcomes, more Alabama students succeed,” said A+ President Caroline Novak. “Now we need to increase our efforts to bring educators and citizens together to further develop and accomplish the strategies in Plan 2020 so that – doing something great – is truly within our reach.”