Photo courtesy of Andy Craig.
Superintendent Andy Craig
What programs do you think are the most important to focus on in the upcoming school year?
We will continue to seek ways to improve the college and career readiness of our current and future graduates. We have a lot of good things going on right now in this area. Last year, our graduates were offered more than $50 million in scholarships, nine out of 10 were accepted by a college and eight out of 10 were accepted by a college in their top three choices. There is room to improve in this area as we look to the needs of workers 10 or 20 years from now, so we have to continually re-examine what and how we are teaching to prepare students for these future needs.
How is eliminating the graduation test and replacing it with the ACT going to affect schools? Should parents expect lower test scores?
Overall, I believe this is a good change for schools. The ACT test is more relevant and valid to our students than the old graduation exam because it gives students and parents specific feedback with regard to college and career readiness instead of very basic literacy skills. The ACT requires much less time and disruption to the normal instructional process in the high schools.
It is very important to understand that the ACT is not a replacement for the old graduation test. The state eliminated the graduation test, which was a basic skills exam, and implemented statewide administration of the ACT to all high school juniors to give parents and students a more detailed picture of a student’s academic strengths and challenges as they prepare for college. The vast majority of our Hoover students, about 90 percent, have been taking the ACT for many years, and they have done well historically, clearly outpacing state and national averages.
Under the new system, how are schools going to be ranked, and how are teachers going to be assessed?
The new Alabama State Department of Education accountability process is still being fine-tuned at the state level, but we know that it will emphasize measures associated with improving college and career readiness of all students. Schools and systems will be measured against their own historical performance instead of arbitrary goals that are not relevant to communities with specific needs.
The emphasis will be on districts getting better from year to year, and Hoover City Schools have always been committed to the principle of continuous improvement. Teachers will be evaluated using the same process that has been in place for years, EDUCATE Alabama, which is also a system that emphasizes continuous improvement.
What differences can parents expect to see in the curriculum with Common Core?
The difference that parents will start to see now will be new assessments. For example, the ACT Aspire student results should give parents and teachers clear and specific feedback as early as third grade on how individual students can improve their chances for being college and career ready when they graduate high school. We hope the state-mandated assessments live up to that promise, but we haven’t seen the results yet, so that is still an unknown right now.
How are the new college and career-ready standards going to prepare students for the future?
Business and workforce development leaders have been directly involved in the development of these new standards, and the skills and knowledge defined at each grade level were designed from current and projected career competencies. There are a lot of anticipated openings in the area of skilled trades over the next decade, jobs that pay well and will grow in opportunity over time, but the academic skills that students need for those jobs have changed from years ago. They are now not very different from what you expect for a student who is preparing to enter a state university.
Skilled workers will need to re-train continuously through reading and comprehending highly technical information, they will need to apply advanced mathematical concepts in practical situations, and they will need to solve problems using logical reasoning strategies. We believe these new standards will help our current and future graduates to be ready to embrace their role as informed citizens, continuous learners, and employed workers as they live and raise families in our community.
How can parents help their students adapt to the Common Core curriculum?
My advice here is about the same as it has always been. Communicate regularly with teachers, seek opportunities to engage alongside students in learning activities, and encourage your student to embrace challenging problems and seek creative and innovative solutions. Hoover City Schools established many of these standards as learning expectations for students years ago.
The best learning often occurs at the leading edge of a very fine line that marks the boundary between challenge and frustration, and that is why it is so important for teachers and parents to communicate and collaborate regularly. The Alabama College and Career Readiness standards are more rigorous, and those higher expectations can create stresses at times for students. Encouragement and engagement are the best ways that parents can help students experience success.