Administrators for Huntsville City Schools react to failing schools report

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Alabama State Superintendent's office released a report Thursday, identifying two Huntsville City Schools as failing.

The reactions at the Huntsville City School Board meeting were mixed.

Board members Beth Wilder and Michelle Watkins got emotional, encouraging students at Lee and Columbia High Schools to not let it get them down.  School Board President Elisa Ferrell said it took her by surprise.

To get on the failure list, state schools have to fall in the bottom 6% when it comes to math and reading scores on the ACT Aspire test.

The list is required to be published each year, under the Alabama Accountability Act passed by lawmakers.

"It was a list without input from our state and local educators. It has a rub on us involved in education," said Tom Drake, the Interim Superintendent of Huntsville City Schools.

Drake declined an interview, but shared during the meeting that disdain for this kind of failure rate goes all the way to the top.

“I will share with you our State Superintendent has expressed disapproval," said Drake.

This is the first year Columbia and Lee have made the failing list.

“I’m sure that Columbia and Lee will work it out and figure out what they need to do to remove themselves from the list as well," said Ferrell.

McNair Junior High actually improved enough to escape this year's list. Ferrell credits that to streamlining curriculum, professional development for teachers and other programs in place.

“All of that together is helping us reduce the number. At one point we had nine schools on that failing list, it’s now down to two," said Ferrell.

And the district has plans in the works to hopefully decrease that number even more.

“This year, we’re discontinuing the End of Course exams so they don’t have to worry about those. Then we’re also going to spread out the ACT Aspire over four days like we do in elementary school," she said.

Ferrell says by spreading out the test, it will eliminate fatigue. “It's painful to see the lower scores but that’s how you get better, you don’t know what you need to fix until you know you’re sick," she said.

More than anything, she wants to assure parents the district knows there are problems, and they hope to address them so that Huntsville City Schools can eventually get off the list completely.

"We’re making inroads but it’s not a thing where we can snap our fingers and fix it overnight. It's a process," said Ferrell.

One provision of the Alabama Accountability Act is that students who attend schools that appear on the failing list can transfer to another school in the district or receive a voucher for a private school education.

District Administrators say the federal desegregation order actually takes precedent over the state law, so while some students could be approved to move if they apply, large numbers would not be likely approved.

Superintendent Drake also mentioned this year's testing will be administered via pencil and paper instead of computers. He believes these will also help test scores.