State and federal education report card delayed again

The Gordon Persons Building in Montgomery, Ala., is home to the Alabama State Department of Education.

Alabama education officials again delayed the release of the state’s unified report card, due in part to technical problems with the website but also to ensure the data is accurate, according to Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey.

“It’s better for data to be a day or two late than to be wrong,” Mackey told AL.com Monday evening. “It should be up Wednesday by noon.”

This is the third delay of the release, planned initially for Dec. 21, then moved to Dec. 28, and again to Dec. 31, the federal deadline, which Alabama has now missed.

The unified report card contains information required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, and that is where the problems have been, Mackey said. Other states have had trouble getting their data online, too, he said, and he doesn’t expect any federal repercussions because of the delay.

This is the first year states are reporting the large volume of information required under ESSA, which lawmakers passed in 2015 to replace No Child Left Behind.

The state information is ready, Mackey said, but the full website won’t go live until all of the data is ready. State officials released letter grades for schools and districts reflecting 2017-18 achievement data on Dec. 28.

Additional information that ESSA requires to be reported includes:

  • Spending per student by school, along with the source (federal, state, or local) of that money,
  • Percentages of students who are a first-year English learner, and what portion of those students were exempted from reading tests,
  • Percentages and numbers of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who take alternate tests,
  • Percentages of teachers, principals and other school leaders who are inexperienced,
  • Percentages of teachers teaching out of field,
  • Percentages of teachers using emergency or provisional credentials,
  • Percentage of classes in core academic subjects not taught by qualified teachers in both high-poverty and low-poverty schools, and
  • National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) results for Alabama students.

School-level information on the numbers of suspensions (both in-school and out-of-school), expulsions, school-related arrests, referrals to law enforcement and incidents of violence including bullying and harassment must also be reported.

Schools and districts must also report enrollment in preschool programs and the number and percentage of students enrolled in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and dual enrollment courses.

Data will still be required to be broken down by the major racial and ethnic groups as well by children with disabilities, those who are economically disadvantaged and English language learners.

The state department used a vendor in California to handle the programming for the website, Mackey said, and while the vendor completed all of the required programming today, no one had used the live website. Mackey said he wanted his staff to take the next day and a half to make sure the right information would pull up in the right place.

Mackey recalled the April 2016 release of unverified Alabama high school graduation rates which were inaccurate and had to be taken down. “It was a tough lesson to learn for the department,” he said, and he wants to make sure that never happens again.

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