Recapping important education policy decisions for you
We’re continuing our monthly series dedicated to keeping you informed about key policy discussions and decisions made by the Alabama State Board of Education and the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE). The Alabama State Board of Education meets twice yearly for a retreat, a full day work session during which they discuss important policies, procedures, and changes for Alabama’s K-12 public schools. These retreats are in addition to their regular monthly meeting and work sessions. You can watch them live and see old meetings here.
Here are our key takeaways from the March 30th State Board of Education retreat – and what they mean for Alabama’s students. Click here to see the full meeting agenda.
Review 2022 Legislative Session
Dr. Eric Mackey reviewed the bills related to education that have either passed or are pending in the Legislature.
Alabama Numeracy Act: (SB 171, Sen. Arthur Orr) This bill has now passed both the House and the Senate and goes onto Governor Ivey for her signature.
Education Trust Fund Budget: (HB 135, Rep. Danny Garrett)- The FY 23 ETF budget passed out of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee today and will be up for a final vote soon. Check out our latest Budget Watch blog post for more information on changes made to the FY 23 ETF budget in the Senate, linked here.
First Grade Readiness Bill: (HB 331, Rep. Pebblin Warren)- This bill would require all Alabama students to either attend Kindergarten or to pass a readiness assessment prior to entering first grade. This bill has passed out of the Senate Committee and is awaiting final passage on the Senate floor.
Mental Health Coordinators: (HB 123, Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter)– This bill would codify the mental health services coordinators and would add them to the budget permanently. Right now, these positions are covered through an annual grant program that is subject to changes made to the Education Trust Fund budget year after year. This bill has been passed out of the Senate Finance & Taxation Education Committee and is awaiting final passage on the Senate floor.
Auxiliary Teachers: (HB 429, Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter)- This bill would require a highly-trained teacher aide in each K-3 classroom, which will be phased in over the course of 8 years. If this bill passes the Senate and is signed by Governor Ivey, there is already $5 million earmarked in the FY23 ETF budget for a pilot program.
Divisive Concepts or Critical Race Theory Bill: (HB 312, Rep. Ed Oliver)- This bill prohibits teachers from “compelling” students to agree with topics related to race, gender, or religion. If you are interested in reading more about this bill, check out these two articles from AL.com, linked here and here.
Feminine Hygiene: (HB 50, Sen. Rolanda Hollis)- This bill would start a grant program for Title I schools to purchase feminine hygiene products and provide them at no-cost to students who need them. If this bill passes, there is already $200,000 earmarked for this initiative in the FY23 ETF budget.
School Discipline and Due Process: (SB 40, Sen. Roger Smitherman)- It creates an extra layer of hearing processes before students can be suspended for a long period of time.
ELL Academic Achievement: (SB 170, Sen. Arthur Orr)- This bill will change our state report cards to be different from our federal report card, by removing students that are English Language Learners from the Academic Achievement calculation for their first three years of enrollment. This bill is waiting for final passage on the House floor.
Financial Literacy: (HB 259, Rep. Prince Chestnut)- This bill would require that students take a financial literacy class to graduate
Public Consulting Group Presentation
Mrs. Anna d’Entremont and Dr. David Driscoll, from Public Consultant Group (PCG), gave Board members an update on their work with the ALSDE. In 2019, the State Legislature hired PCG as an external evaluator to audit the performance and internal operations of the ALSDE, with the goal of identifying areas for improvement. Their initial report was published in March 2020 (linked here), which was overshadowed by the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, PCG has been retained by the Legislature to continue working with ALSDE in order to address their recommendations laid out in the initial report. If you are interested in learning more about their work, check out this article from al.com.
In the presentation, d’Hemecourt & Driscoll shared four key areas where they have seen the continued need for work:
Accountability: One of their most urgent recommendations from the original report was the call for accountability. Both presenters expressed that there is still significant progress to be made in this area and that the ALSDE must work on holding schools accountable for their academic achievement. They also emphasized a need for a more comprehensive and differentiated set of strategies to support schools that are struggling, beyond just the bottom 6% of schools.
Data Use: Both presenters expressed that there is still significant work to be done internally to ensure that data informs all decisions. This will require building out internal capacity and much more robust data systems, as well as better coaching and support of LEAs to use data to make decisions. They also emphasized that all of the high achieving NAEP states profiled in their initial report attributed data use as the most important factor in their success.
Student Opportunities: Presenters emphasized that it will be critical for ALSDE to continue to dig deeper into the student subgroup performance in order to close achievement gaps that exist between subgroups, especially for students of color, low-income students, and students with special needs.
Educator Quality: COVID has continued to push the need for much more innovative approaches for how Alabama attracts and retains excellent teachers. Both presenters mentioned that this moment in time is an excellent opportunity to try out new innovative strategies in this area.
Presentation from the Ethics Commission
Mr. Tom Albritton, from the Alabama Ethics Commission, reviewed laws and rules related to Board Member Ethics.
Updates on the State’s Reading Progress
Alabama Literacy Update: Mrs. Bonnie Short gave a presentation on implementation, beginning with reviewing the goals of the Alabama Literacy Act, linked here. This law, passed in 2019, works to ensure all students are reading on grade-level by the end of 3rd grade. After walking through an implementation timeline of the ALA, Short announced that the Alabama Reading Initiative will be launching the “Spotlight Science of Reading Schools” project in Fall 2022. ARI will be identifying schools that have been making significant progress in order to highlight and share their best practices. Next year, there will be professional learning opportunities for schools to visit the “Spotlight Science of Reading Schools” to see their best practices in action.
Short also shared that ARI is working to ensure that regional coaching support is targeted and that the ARI team may be expanding to make sure that schools are receiving the support that they need. The ARI team added a team member dedicated to Family & Community Support and they will be rolling out new initiatives to specifically engage families on literacy in the coming months. In addition, the ARI team is working closely with districts to streamline the reporting that is required by the Alabama Literacy Act. She closed her presentation expressing that the goal of ARI is to provide pathways to promotion and that the potential impact of Alabama Literacy Act amendments to the promotion policy will not affect ARI’s current planning and support for LEAs.
Dr. McCarty requested the data on how many principals have completed the Elementary Ed LETRS training. Short committed to getting board members this data and mentioned that the culminating factor in the highest growth schools has been school leadership.
Struggling Readers: Over the past year, board members have fielded many calls and emails from principals and educators in the upper grades that want to know how they can support their struggling readers in upper grades. Dr. Elizabeth Davis shared that the ALSDE is working to get professional development opportunities in place for teachers beyond grade three, including Language Enrichment for Older Students (LEOS).
ESSA Addendum: Mrs. Shanthia Washington of the ALSDE spoke about a potential state ESSA plan addendum. ESSA, or the Elementary Student Succeeds Act, is the federal For the past two years, Alabama has received a waiver from the US Department of Education on running the accountability system due to challenges schools have faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, there will not be an opportunity for a waiver, but states are allowed to submit an addendum to their ESSA plan. Ms. Angela Martin added that this was time-sensitive because there is required to be a public comment period before submitting the addendum, and the ALSDE is also planning to do an amendment to the ESSA plan in the fall, and the addendum needs to happen first. Check back on the ALSDE website’s public comment page for an opportunity to leave your thoughts on the addendum.
Mrs. Washington stated that there were a few key areas in the ESSA plan that need adjustments:
- Long-Term Progress Goals: The addendum would shift these goals back by 2 years, due to the accountability system not having been used for the past 2 years due to COVID-19. This would also provide a chance for there to be more accurate data to use for accountability since the current assessment has only been in place for one year.
- Exit Criteria for Comprehensive Support & Improvement (CSI) & Additional Targeted Support & Improvement (ATSI) Schools: Schools that did not exit either CSI or ATSI status by meeting certain progress goals this year would move on to the next level of accountability. The addendum to the ESSA plan would allow two additional years for schools to meet these goals before moving to the next level of accountability.
- Two Consecutive Years of Growth for Schools Exiting CSI and ATSI: In our current ESSA plan, CSI or ATSI schools have to show improvement for 2 consecutive years in order to exit. The addendum to the ESSA plan would remove that criteria altogether.
Dr. Mackey’s updates on the Course of Study Adoption Timeline have been pushed to the work session on Thursday, April 14, 2022.