- Cullman, Alabama

December 13, 2012

City school's Harris helping draft new state ed. grading system

School systems will soon receive A-F report cards

By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times

— After a decade of trying to decipher Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) reports, local educators can breathe a sigh of relief — starting in 2014, schools will receive a simple A to F rating to determine how well they are performing.

The State Department of Education is developing a new rating system to measure school achievement across Alabama, and Cullman City Schools Dr. Jan Harris is currently serving on the committee.

The Alabama Legislature passed a law to establish the new measuring stick, which will replace AYP and the federal No Child Left Behind initiative, and appointed 16 educators to a committee to figure out how the new system will work. The state is still waiting for official confirmation that the waiver from NCLB has been approved.

Comprised of school superintendents, board members, principals and teachers, the Accountability Task Force has been asked to create a preliminary plan by Dec. 31.

“Our job is to come up with a format for that information that is easy to understand for citizens, so when they pull that report card they can understand student achievement, local indicators of success and information about teacher effectiveness,” Harris said.

Harris said the plan is for the new grading system to represent the cumulative impression of a variety of factors.

“It will reflect overall academic proficiency, reflect academic improvements made by each public school, and it must reflect other key performance indicators to give a total profile of the school, school system or both,” Harris said. “It’s really an eye-opening experience, because it’s very difficult to capture that. I think of it like a onion, with layer after layer going into it.”

Everything from poverty rates, demographics, student achievement and ACT scores could play into the equation.

“The committee unanimously agrees that we don’t want just one grade,” Harris said. “I think there should be multiple grades for each system, like how a child gets a grade in different subjects. We think there should be different areas that schools get grades in.”

With No Child Left Behind standards reaching a critical juncture in 2014, nearly every state in the nation has applied for a waiver to develop more-localized plans. The NCLB standards require 100 percent of students to pass standardized tests in reading and math by 2014, meaning virtually every system would likely “fail” AYP if the standards continue.

“I think it will be a positive change, and I love to use this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘To be simple is to be great,’” Harris said. “If educators have difficulty interpreting and explaining AYP, the common lay-person would have difficulty as well. I think we should be able to report student achievements through simple means of communication.”

Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.