Alabama students to take new standardized tests – Education Week

Published Online: April 10, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama public school students will take new standardized tests this spring that, in addition to measuring academic performance, will estimate their eventual score on the ACT college entrance exam.

Alabama schools will use a suite of six tests produced by ACT, Inc. which manufactures the popular college entrance test. The new tests are aligned with the Common Core curriculum standards and replace the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test and Alabama's long-standing high school graduation exam.

"Parents, students, and teachers will know by the end of third grade whether each student is on track to be successful upon graduation from high school," Deputy State Superintendent of Education Sherrill Parris said.

Testing will begin in the third grade. Students in the third through eighth grades will take the ACT Aspire test beginning April 28. Older students will take different tests produced by ACT, Inc. Eleventh-graders will take the actual college entrance exam.

Alabama Superintendent Bice said an advantage of the new tests is that they will give a projection of a student's eventual score on the ACT college test. Student progress will be tracked through the years.

"We can regularly make sure that children are on the trajectory. Has someone fallen off? What do we need to do differently," Bice said.

Parris said, for example, if a student wants to become a physicist or engineer, teachers and parents will know early if they need to intervene to improve those science and math scores.

Even though the tests lead up to the ACT college entrance exam, Bice said state school officials aren't saying every student should, or must, go to college. He said they want to give students that option.

Schools will no longer have multiple days of testing. Students can complete the new test in about four hours, Bice said.

Bice cautioned people not to assume that student performance has declined if students do not perform as well on the new tests as they did on the old. He said the standards are different and the new test scores shouldn't be compared to the old.

"To compare those, and consider it a drop, is a misuse of those tests results," Bice said.


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Superintendent to discuss new standardized tests – Education Week

Published Online: April 9, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Superintendent Tommy Bice will hold a briefing Wednesday on the new standardized tests that public school students will take later this month.

Bice and state school board members will make a presentation about the ACT Aspire test and other ACT assessments that will be given to Alabama students. Statewide testing begins April 28.

The new test replaces the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test. The new test is aligned with the Common Core curriculum standards.

The presentation will begin at the conclusion of the 1 p.m. school board meeting in Montgomery.

The event can be viewed online: (http://tinyurl.com/njddybc )


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Common Core Sides Spar Over ‘Opt Out’ Bill in Alabama – Education Week

Published Online: March 12, 2014

Montgomery, Ala.

After efforts to repeal common core fell flat, a state senator on Tuesday urged lawmakers to let local school systems opt out of the education standards.

The Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on a bill that would let local school systems not use the common core standards for math and English that were adopted by the Alabama Board of Education. The systems could revert to the state's previous standards.

"I would make the argument this bill lets the duly elected local board and local board members decide what is best for the children in their community," said bill sponsor Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, said.

Beason said it would let policy makers compare the education outcomes under the old and new standards.

But what Beason described as a matter of local educational freedom, proponents of the standards said would be a significant step backward for classrooms and students.

Suzanne Culbreth, Alabama's 2013 teacher of the year, held a stack of emails from teachers in support of common core.

"Are these standards what are best for students? I feel unequivocally yes. We have seen gains in test scores and high-level thinking by our students. Are these standards more rigorous and setting a high academic bar? Yes," Culbreth said.

Alabama is one of 45 states to adopt the standards that were developed by the National Governors' Association and tied to federal Race to the Top grants by the Obama administration. Business associations and state education groups have embraced the standards, but repeal has become a rallying cry from state tea party groups and some conservatives who equate it to the nationalization of public education.

The latest bill brought out familiar arguments in the long-running common core debate.

Billy Canary, the president of the Business Council of Alabama, urged the committee to reject the bill saying business groups had lobbied for higher standards in public school.

Only four committee members listened to the two-hours of testimony on the bill. The committee is expected to vote Wednesday.

Opponents criticized the standards as less rigorous and that the texts were politically biased.

Terry Batton, who lives in Georgia but serves as a pastor near Eufaula, said some of the textbooks teach an anti-American and pro "social justice" view.

"Social justice includes far left proposals such as acceptance of homosexuality, alternate lifestyles, radical feminism, abortion, illegal immigration and the redistribution of wealth. When coupled with government mandates and oversight, do you smell a skunk or see a Trojan horse at the gate of our education system," Batton said.

Becky Gerritson of the Wetumpka Tea Party read an excerpt from "The Bluest Eye" a sexually explicit novel by American author Toni Morrison. When she was asked to stop because the passage contained an obscenity, Gerritson countered that teens were reading it.

The book has been a flashpoint in the common core debate.

common core does not mandate particular textbooks, said state Superintendent Tommy Bice. "The Bluest Eye" was on an exemplar list of books that meet the standards. However, the state board removed the book from the list after controversy regarding the text, Bice said.

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Committee approves budget without teacher bonus – Education Week

Published Online: March 12, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A House committee has approved an education budget aimed at giving teachers more money for their health insurance instead of a raise or bonus.

The House Ways and Means - Education Committee voted 10-4 for the budget Wednesday morning.

The spending plan strips away a one-time 1 percent bonus for public education employees approved by the Alabama Senate.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford called the budget a travesty. He said teachers have gone years without raises while being asked to pay more for health insurance and retirement benefits. Gov. Robert Bentley is seeking a 2 percent raise.

Chairman Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said lawmakers want to put more money into insurance to try to avoid large premium increases for employees.


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Bill could give home-schooled kids sports options – Education Week

Published Online: March 10, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Some parents of home-schooled children are supporting proposed legislation that would allow their kids to play competitive sports with public school students.

The Montgomery Advertiser Reports (http://on.mgmadv.com/1llcEmL ) a home-schooled 15-year-old Dothan boy tried out for a local high school football team and practiced with the squad until he was told he was ineligible to play days before the first game.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association requires students to be enrolled in the school they're representing to play sports.

Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools legislative coordinator Jim Chestnutt spoke out against the idea during a public hearing last week, saying that allowing students who are home-schooled to compete with public school teams would be unfair.

The boy's mother says the local team for home-schooled students didn't have enough players.

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Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com


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Ala. governor to sign dual enrollment scholarships – Education Week

Published Online: March 5, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Legislature is creating a scholarship program, funded by private donations, to help high school students take technology courses simultaneously at a community college in expectation of getting a good job at an Alabama industry.

A scholarship bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Mac Buttram of Cullman cleared the House 100-0 in February and passed the Senate 33-1 Tuesday. Gov. Robert Bentley said he will sign it into law.

High school students can currently participate in dual enrollment in career technology courses, such as welding or aviation mechanics, but it is usually at their parents' expense. Buttram's bill allows individuals and businesses to get state income tax credits for donating money to provide scholarships administered by Alabama's two-year college system. They would get a 50 percent tax credit for their donations.

The maximum number of tax credits each year would be $5 million and that could provide $10 million in scholarships for 9,500 students annually, Buttram said.

He said the scholarship program will allow low-income students to participate in dual enrollment. "This can be a game changer for students who don't have the opportunity now," he said.

Republican Sen. Phil Williams of Rainbow City said participating students can end up with jobs paying $50,000 annually. "This is a win for this state," he told the Senate.

Businesses that donate to the scholarship program can steer up to 80 percent of their donation to help train students in a particular field. Buttram said that makes business and education partners in making sure Alabama has a well-trained workforce.

The Legislature's Republican majority made the bill a priority for the 2014 legislative session.

Bentley said expanding dual enrollment was one of the recommendations from the College and Career Ready Task Force he created last year. "Job creation is my top priority, and we must have the skilled workforce ready for the jobs we recruit," the governor said.

Democratic Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma cast the lone vote against the bill. He said he supports dual enrollment, but the bill does not contain safeguards to make sure the program pays off financially.


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Bentley won’t sign budget without teacher raise – Education Week

Published Online: March 5, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Gov. Robert Bentley says he won't sign the education budget unless it includes a 2 percent pay raise for teachers and public education employees.

The governor said Wednesday that he will send the budget back to lawmakers if they do not approve the raise plus full funding for the teachers' insurance program.

Bentley recommended a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for public school employees. Instead, the Alabama Senate last week approved a 1 percent bonus. The Senate budget chairman said the state can't afford the $74 million cost of a 2 percent raise.

Bentley maintains his proposal is sound.

Lawmakers could override a Bentley veto if a majority of the elected members in both chambers agree.

The House Ways and Means-Education Committee is expected to vote on the budget next week.


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