By Donna Thornton/News Editor
Alabama Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice dropped what might have seemed to be radical ideas on Etowah County teachers last week at the county’s system wide meeting, held at CrossPoint Church.
Purge your minds of everything the state Department of Education has told you for the past 25 years, Bice told the educators.
And by all indications, they loved what they heard.
Bice talked about the changes he fostered in Alabama starting last year – including the killing of the graduation exam, along with some other standardized tests.
Gone is the emphasis on test scores, Bice said.
Success of schools should be judged, he said, on their success in preparing students for the future.
“We’re going to have an accountability system that makes sense,” he said.
“The majority of success in Alabama classrooms cannot be captured on a test,” Bice said.
The superintendent said he spent the first six months of his 18 months on the job talking to business leaders, colleges and career training facilities to find out what they sought in Alabama graduates, and what they were not finding.
The knocks were against students who lack intellectual curiosity, and who may have been able to pass a test on a certain subject, but are not able to apply it to real life situations.
“We’ve been preparing students to take a test, not preparing them for the future,” Bice said.
What students need to be able to do, he said, is to take the knowledge they’ve gained in school and have the ability to apply it in real world situations.
Bice said objectives have been set for Alabama schools: to have all students performing with increasing proficiency and continuous improvement; for all students to succeed; for every student to graduate from high school; and for every student to graduate high school prepared for college or a career.
The measure for a successful school should be that it has “everyone in the herd moving northeast on the graph.”
Bice said in talking with colleges and businesses, he asked what test they would use to gauge student achievement.
“Unless we secede from the union,” he said, “we’re going to have to give some sort of test in the spring.”
Time and time again, they came back to the ACT test and the Work Key – the two measures that Bice has put in place for Alabama.
Bice said the state’s 2020 plan for education calls for an increase in the graduation rate.
In 2012, it was 72 percent. Bice said that meant 38 percent of students did not graduate in four years, not that 30 percent of Alabama students dropped out.
The four-year target was set at 80 percent, with an eight-year goal of 90 percent – roughly a 10 percent increase in four years.
After the first year of “not thinking toward the test,” he said, the graduation rate improved by 3 percent.
But in all that he said, Bice stressed moving away from numbers.
“These are real people,” represented by those statistics, he said.
Bice shared a story from his career in the classroom – an alternative school, with a group of students who had been sent to the juvenile justice system, then returned to the school system.
He said he decided he was not going to understand those children without getting to know them, and they spent time, gathering outside the classroom walls and he listened to there stories.
Bice said he learned he had 36 kids who didn’t know where they were going to be sleeping that night.
When they left school on Friday, they didn’t know where the next meal was coming from.
“Not one had a caring adult in their lives,” Bice said.
They lived in area where their lives were in danger just walking past gang recruiters to get to school.
“I challenge you when school starts on Monday,” Bice said.
“I don’t care if you don’t teach a dang thing. Get to know your students.”