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State Board: ACT Aspire Out, Heated Discussion on Internal Investigation



State Board: ACT Aspire Out, Heated Discussion on Internal Investigation


The State Board of Education voted Wednesday to abandon the ACT Aspire test and now will likely use Global Scholar (Scantron) as the state assessment for the 2017-18 school year. Already used by at least 65 percent of local school systems, Scantron would serve as the interim assessment until the state develops its own test. While a federal waiver would be necessary to suspend assessments, such a waiver is not required to change assessments.

Sentance outlined a series of issues surrounding the administration of the ACT Aspire and recent coding errors in data reporting as evidence that Alabama has not been well served. He recommended to the board that the ACT Aspire contract not be extended at its July deadline and that the state move in another direction.

The ALSDE will provide bridge documents to help school system personnel prepare for the assessment transition. Sentance said the plan is to provide resources about specific standards and potential questions for teachers to work through and help students prepare to master the material. Several board members said they were relieved to know teachers will receive assistance to get ready for the interim assessment, especially considering past dissatisfaction with the availability of information such as sample test questions for the ACT Aspire.

“That’s a little scary,” board member Jeff Newman (District 7) said of the plans to help school systems prepare for the move to Scantron. “It makes too much sense.”

Dr. Cynthia McCarty (District 6) said she hopes targeted professional development will be made available to address the need, suggesting such sessions be incorporated during the ALSDE’s upcoming Mega-conference next month. Sentance cautioned the board that additional issues remain that will need to be addressed as the assessment change is implemented.

Internal Investigation Report Sparks Heated Discussion 

Following the ACT Aspire announcement, much of the board meeting was devoted to a lengthy and contentious discussion about a report detailing the findings of an internal investigation into the unauthorized dissemination of confidential material within the ALSDE about then-state superintendent candidate, Dr. Craig Pouncey.

Dr. Yvette Richardson (District 4), board vice president, said because a copy of the report and a memo to board members had been leaked to the media, the board would no longer go into a previously planned executive session. She suggested that while the board would publicly receive the report in the meeting, there should be limited discussion because of pending litigation.

Sentance charged ALSDE attorney Michael Meyer with conducting the internal investigation and producing a report of his findings. Meyer’s report did not address the core question of how the confidential material had been acquired and disseminated – a question ALSDE Chief Information Security Officer David Pope said may be impossible to answer because of how dated the emails and other materials were. Instead, the crux of Meyer’s report described how four ALSDE employees and a State Board of Education member had allegedly conspired to taint Pouncey’s candidacy. Some took issue with the conclusions reached in the report and raised additional questions about the propriety of a department employee being charged with investigating his colleagues and superior.

Sentance told board members that because he was uneasy about the conclusions drawn in the report, he had sought and received counsel on the matter from former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Bernard Harwood Jr. Sentance explained that he considered the report to be a “draft” and wanted the judge’s review to accompany it in his report to the board. Richardson responded that the board had not authorized, asked for nor been informed that a judge would review the report.

After an attorney representing the ALSDE staff spoke up from the audience, Harwood took a seat before the board and said that in his re- view of the report and accompanying facts, he questioned whether the evidence supported

the report’s conclusions. After nearly two hours of tense discussion, the board initially voted 7-1 to receive the report. McCarty, stating that she had voted yes un- der the presumption that Harwood’s review would ac- company the report, later changed her vote to an abstention. A written report by Harwood has not yet been provided. 

Special-called Meeting Friday, June 23

In the work session immediately following the meeting, the board voted to hire its own attorney regarding the internal investigation and set a special-called meeting for that purpose. That meeting took place Friday, and amid procedural and financial questions, the board vot- ed unanimously to hire the firm, Means Gillis Law LLC.

Also during Friday’s special-called meeting, Rushton Stakely attorney Dennis Bailey, who is representing the three ALSDE attorneys named in Meyer’s report, made a formal request that the board accept a written response to the report on his clients’ behalf. No action was taken on Bailey’s request.

Next State Board Meeting and Work Session

The board’s next regular meeting will take place in Montgomery on July 11 at 10 a.m., followed by an 11 a.m. work session.

 Alabama Could Lose Millions if Proposed Senate Health Care Bill Passes

Alabama’s education leaders are among those nation- wide sounding the alarm about Medicaid changes in the Senate healthcare proposal released Thursday.

The initial draft of federal legislation to repeal and re- place the health care law known as Obamacare includes up to $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid, putting Alabama’s most vulnerable students at risk.

The plan is for the Senate to take up the House-passed version and substitute its own before July 4. States would have to increase Medicaid funding by 15 percent or more to sustain current programs. Alabama already is struggling to come up with state funding for Medicaid, and the proposed federal cut further translates to dire options: cutting beneficiaries, reducing benefits and cutting provider payments unless the legislature raises taxes to meet the need.

Local education leaders know that schools will feel the brunt of the loss when federal funding is cut. Students whose families no longer have affordable health insurance options will rely on local and state resources to pick up the slack. The reimbursement that schools currently receive for identifying and providing Medicaid services may no longer be available. In Alabama, that Medicaid Administrative Claiming program returned $43.3 million to local schools statewide in 2016 and has returned more than $331 million since the program began in 1999.

Call to Action Soon to Come

The National School Boards Association is urging local school board members to reach out to their Congressional delegation to explain the profound impact the cut will have on students and schools. Look for a Call to Action soon to ask your senators and Congress members to address Medicaid and spare Alabama’s children from the proposed cuts.

Changes to Title I Allocations Released   

The ALSDE Thursday released preliminary FY18 Title I , Part A allocations and final FY17 Title I, Part A allocations.

Preliminary FY18 allocations for ESSA Title 1, Part A also were released.

Register Now for July Webinar on Copyright 

AASB’s first webinar of the 2017-18 training year, Fair or Foul: Copyright in Schools, is set for July 13, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Worth 1.5 training hours and featuring Balch & Bing- ham LLP attorneys Will Hill Tankersley and Marcus Chatterton as presenters, this webinar will provide school board members with valuable information about how to protect their school systems from claims involving copyright infringement. Don’t miss this in- credible learning opportunity! 

Register now.

One Week Left to Take Advantage of Simbli Board Management Software 

June 30 is the last day AASB members can take advantage of unprecedented savings on award-winning board management software by Simbli (eBOARDsolutions).

Enjoy an additional 20% discount applied for full pack- age subscriptions, plus free site setup ($1,000 value) and free custom site skin ($500 value). Learn more.

Board Member Orientation Courses July 21 & 22 

Calling all new board members and superintendents! AASB will offer new board member orientations as standalone courses on July 21 and 22 at the Birmingham Marriott at 3590 Grandview Parkway.

Friday, July 21, AASB will present Effective Boards and Relationships Orientation, a six-hour Academy core course that offers in-depth information about effective board leadership, working with your superintendent and board attorney and advocating for your school system.

Saturday, July 22, the Roles & Responsibilities Orientation will be held. This eight-hour Academy core course covers board basics such as ethics, public relations, legal issues, finance and more.

(Note: The state requires public officials to complete certain orientation courses at least once. By taking both parts of AASB’s orientation, members will meet this requirement.)

All-State Award Nominations Open 

AASB is accepting nominations for its All-State School Board Member Recognition Program, one of the asso-ciation’s highest honors. The award celebrates the work of up to five past or present Alabama school board members who have exhibited exemplary board-manship.

The nomination guidelines and form have been emailed to board presidents and superintendents and may be submitted following a majority vote of the school board. An individual board member may nominate another board member provided the nominations endorsed by a majority of the nominee’s board. All- State Award recipients are honored during AASB’s annual Convention in December.

This year’s nomination deadline is September 8, 2017.

It's A Date!  

July 13 (1.5 hours)
Webinar:Copyright & Fair Use Doctrine

July 21 (6 hours) 
Effective Boards & Relationships Orientation
Birmingham, AL

July 22 (8 hours)
Roles & Responsibilities Orientation
Birmingham, AL

Sept. 7-25 (1 hour)
Fall District Meetings 

Oct. 1 & 2 (6 hours)
Fall Academy Core Conference
Montgomery, AL

Oct. 2 (2 hours) 
Post-Conference Workshop
Montgomery, AL

Nov. 2 (1.5 hours)
Webinar: TBA

Dec. 7-9 (8 hours)
AASB Annual Convention
Birmingham, AL