Standards and Accountability: Alabama’s mathematics and history standards are clear and specific at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. But its science standards are clear and specific for elementary and middle schools only. English standards are clear and specific solely at the elementary level.
The state has tests aligned with its standards, but not for all grade spans in all subjects. For example, it has a standards-based social studies test solely in high school. In addition to multiple-choice and short-answer items, Alabama includes extended-response questions in English tests at the elementary, middle, and high school levels and in math tests at the elementary and middle school levels.
Alabama uses test data for a range of accountability purposes, including: publishing school report cards; assigning ratings to schools; giving help to schools labeled low-performing; and providing rewards to improving or high-performing schools.
Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Alabama requires beginning teachers to pass a basic-skills test to enter the profession. But the state does not require middle or high school teachers to pass subject-knowledge tests or to obtain majors or minors in the subjects they plan to teach—an omission that hurts the state’s grade. The state board of education, however, recently revised the standards for approving teacher education programs to require all teacher-candidates to complete an academic major. The requirement will take effect in the 2005-06 school year.
The state does not require and pay for an induction program to support new teachers once they are in the classroom, or use performance assessments to evaluate how those teachers do on the job. On the plus side, Alabama finances ongoing professional development for its teachers and requires districts to set aside time for such activities.
Arguably, the state’s greatest strengths are its measures to hold teacher-preparation programs accountable for the performance of their graduates. Alabama produces a report card for each of its teacher-training institutions. The report cards provide details on the quality of the programs on a variety of measures, from the comprehensiveness of students’ clinical experiences to evaluations of their performance once they enter the profession. The state is one of only 14 that hold teacher-training programs accountable based on the performance of their graduates in the classroom.
School Climate: According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, students in Alabama are more likely to attend schools where school officials report that a lack of parent involvement is a problem than other students in the United States. Furthermore, school report cards do not include information about parent involvement. Results from the NAEP also show that students in the 8th grade were less likely to attend schools where a school official reported that physical conflicts and classroom misbehavior were not problems or were minor problems, compared with the national average. Alabama is one of only two states with neither a system of open enrollment nor a charter school law. Both measures would give parents more choice in deciding which public schools their children attend.
On the positive side, data from the federal 2000 Schools and Staffing Survey put the state’s average class size in elementary schools at 18.7 pupils, besting the national average of 21.2. The state also has a system for tracking the conditions of all its school facilities.
Equity: Alabama receives an average grade in equity, but has very different rankings on each indicator. For example, Alabama ranks 48th in wealth neutrality among the 50 states. According to Alabama’s wealth-neutrality score, which considers the influence of property wealth on the distribution of state and local education aid, a significant amount of inequity in funding across districts is linked to local property wealth. In contrast, the state has a better coefficient of variation than most states, ranking seventh of the 50 states, which shows that funding disparities across districts are small compared with those of most other states.
Spending: Alabama spends comparatively less on education than most other states and the District of Columbia, ranking 43rd out of 51 at $6,755 per student in the 2001-02 school year. Only 3 percent of the students in the state attend schools in districts where spending is at or above the U.S. average. In addition, Alabama ranks 39th on the spending index, a measure that takes into account how many students in the state have funding at or above the national average and how far the rest are below that average. Even though Alabama spends comparatively less money per pupil, it dedicates 3.8 percent of its total taxable resources to education, which equals the national average.