By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama State Department of Education presented its new strategic plan to improve K-12 public education this week with detailed objectives and measurable goals for the next five years.
The plan – Alabama Achieves: A New Plan for a New Decade – addresses five overarching strategic priorities that are meant to address the challenges facing public schools: Academic Growth and Achievement; college, career, and workforce preparedness; safe and supportive learning environments; highly effective educators; and customer-friendly services.
Within those five main priorities are strategies and detailed measures of success for each.
State Superintendent Eric Mackey said the finished product, which was presented to the state school board members on Thursday, was the result of 15 months of work and is open for adjustments when the need arises.
“It is a living document,” Mackey said. “We certainly want to be amenable to change and we want it to line up with the work we’re doing with [Public Consulting Group], but we also want it to line up very closely with the work we’re doing for our [Every Student Succeeds Act] plan. ESSA is very important, and it really drives everything we do especially in support for our districts and the work in improving student outcomes, so everything has to mesh with that piece too.”
The federal government approved the state’s plan for improving Alabama’s education system under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in May 2018. The ESSA plan is a road map for how Alabama can close its achievement gaps and increase education equity across the state.
Mackey said that the department’s strategic plan will also work with the reform study being created by the Public Consulting Group (PCG) as a result of their findings in a recently released report about restructuring the ALSDE.
“[PCG] have taken their report and recommendations and overlaid it with our plan,” Mackey told the board. “Not to substitute with our plan, they have never indicated that nor have we indicated that anything they do would substitute our plan
Representatives of PCG told board members on Thursday that their strategic plan is still set to be finished by the end of June.
For improving academic growth and achievement, the plan says to focus on reading and math in particular and measure success based on the state’s scores of the National Assessment of Educational Progress for 4th and 8th grades.
Last year’s NAEP scores showed Alabama at or near the bottom for both 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores for the nation. By 2025, the state wants scores to reach the national average, with the exception of 8th grade math.
The percentage of 3rd grade students reading at grade level as measured by the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) will also be used as a measure of academic achievement. The ACAP test was meant to be used for the first time this spring but because of the coronavirus pandemic all standardized testing was halted and that data has not been collected yet.
Boyd said the goals laid out in the strategic plan are permanent and are not subject to change.
“This will give us a guidepost to make sure we are focusing our energy and our efforts in the right direction,” Boyd said to board members.
There are eight measures of success for college, career and workforce preparedness, one of them being the number of students participating in the state’s World of Work program.
Another measure of success is the difference between college and career readiness and graduation rates. In 2019 the strategic plan states that difference was at 15%, and by 2025 the department hopes to have it at 5%.
Some ways the plan says it will measure how safe and supportive Alabama’s learning environments are is by the number of certified youth mental health and first-aid trainers in the state. In 2019 there were 45 trainers, the strategic plan says, and by 2025 the department hopes to have 315 trainers.
One of the ways ALSDE will measure Alabama’s progress in producing highly effective educators will be to follow the number of properly certified teachers in math, science and special education for grades 6-12.
Another measure they will follow is the number of emergency employment certificates awarded to teachers. In 2019, 837 certificates were awarded and the state hopes to reduce that to 550 by 2025.
Board member Jackie Ziegler said on Thursday it is important that professional development is not only happening with the teachers but also for the principals and leaders of each school.
“Without the principal having the complete knowledge base when they do their walk throughs, and making sure that what is being implemented is indeed being part of the science of reading or math course of study, then we need to take that into particular importance. That is not only encouraged but really promoted because without their eyes and their leadership a lot of this could fall apart,” Ziegler said.
The fifth and final priority area is to improve ALSDE’s customer services. The department will be measuring annual usage of the department’s website and the percentage of positive respondents based on the service provided by ASLDE.
A new website for the department is currently being developed. Michael Sibley, the communications director for ALSDE, showed a preview of the new website to the board on Thursday and said they hope to have it finished by July 1.
Mackey said he plans to push out the strategic plan to the public in a series of videos explaining each of the five key areas over a five-week period.
A planning committee that helped create the ALSDE’s 2020 strategic plan was comprised of 37 individuals from the education community as well as various fields of business and were representative of each state board of education district.
The planning committee members’ input, as well as the more than 20,000 responses to the ALSDE’s “Take 10 for Public Education” survey, were used to create the 2020 strategic plan.
“With the number of stakeholders we had involved in this particular plan and the number of feedback we had from the survey instrument, this has allowed us to come up with a document that truly embodies insight, feelings, perceptions and knowledge from many members across our state,” Deputy State Superintendent Daniel Boyd told board members on Thursday.