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December 9, 2012

Education Revolution: How Plan 2020 could reshape education in Alabama

Former Hanceville student Miranda Robertson made good grades and got all the inspiration she needed from her high school experience to eventually return as a teacher’s aide in the Cullman County school system. What she didn’t get? A diploma.

Robertson would have graduated in 2005, and though she got to walk and received a certificate of attendance, she still couldn’t technically graduate because she failed one section of a certain standardized test.

It didn’t matter that she made As and Bs every year  — what she really needed was a passing mark on the Alabama High School Graduation Exam. Regardless of performance, students have been required to pass the test to exit a state school with a diploma for decades.

After re-taking the test more than half a dozen times, Robertson still couldn’t pass the history portion. So she got a GED, enrolled at Wallace State and eventually earned a teaching degree.

“I made good grades, stayed out of trouble and was even on the Dean’s List at Wallace,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair that I went to school for 13 years, did well, but my graduation was still entirely decided by one test. I don’t know why you would base a student’s graduation on one test.”

Robertson now works at the child development center helping teach elementary-age students — but she still resents that high school asterisk on her resume.

“It makes me mad that I went to school that long and only have a certificate of attendance and a GED to show for it,” she said.

But, things are about to change. Under a new state accountability plan meant to replace the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) guidelines, the graduation exam won’t be the only path to a diploma for much longer.

Dubbed Plan 2020, the Alabama State Board of Education initiative is moving forward with hopes to overhaul the way student achievement is measured in the state. Alabama has applied for a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind, and is taking a year to develop the framework for Plan 2020.

 Cullman Area Career Center Director Jeff Curtis said situations like Robertson’s are fairly common across the spectrum, with students highly skilled in certain areas though they may struggle on standardized tests.

“I think it happens a lot more often than people realize,” he said. “But with the new focus on college and career-ready, there are a lot of students that are career-ready right out of high school, and might not necessarily require further education. After being in school for 13 years, some want to get out in the world and work a while, then maybe go back to school later on.”

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