A Sustainable Approach to High School Accountability in Alabama

Public school accountability has been a hot topic for decades, and has become a federal requirement since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2008. In 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced universal accountability measures with a requirement that each state develop its own accountability system for schools and districts to track and support student outcomes. In Alabama, state legislation adds additional reporting requirements.

While these accountability systems provide states, districts, and schools with valuable, actionable information, the pressure to meet certain standards can also be a significant source of stress for Alabama school and district leaders, educators, and students. This is particularly true in districts that face higher levels of poverty and other structural challenges and points to the need for solutions that can help districts improve outcomes and results without adding to the burden on teachers and students.

Calculating School and District Accountability Scores in Alabama

In addition to ESSA requirements, the state of Alabama also has its own legislation requiring that each public school receives an annual “report card” based on criteria set by the state. That means that each school and district receives two evaluations — a federal score and a state report card. Through the federal system, each school receives a percentage score, while in the state system, each school receives a letter grade.

Both systems use the same formula to rate high schools and districts, though the federal rating system includes scores from more English language learners than the state system.

  • Graduation Rate — 30%
  • Academic Achievement — 25%
  • Academic Growth — 20%
  • College and Career Readiness (CCR) — 10%
  • Chronic Absenteeism — 10%
  • Progress in English Language Proficiency — 5%

The academic achievement and academic growth metrics are both based on standardized assessment scores. At the high school level, academic achievement scores are calculated by measuring the raw numbers of students scoring at different levels of proficiency on the Alabama Alternative Assessment and the ACT (both in Grade 11). Academic achievement scores are based on students’ improvements in math and English Language Arts (ELA), and calculated using ACT scores.

Standardized asseessments are also relevant to the college and career readiness (CCR) score that measures the percentage of students who have met one of a list of criteria for college or career readiness, which include a benchmark score on any ACT subtest or ACT WorkKeys.  In total, that means that standardized test scores can impact up to 50% of a school or district’s federal and state rating.

Beyond overall ratings, Alabama assigns ratings to a number of subgroups using the same criteria. These subgroups measure performance among specific racial and ethnic groups, as well as economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and English language learners. Each of these ratings is publicly available on the state’s school report card website.

ACT Scores and School Accountability in Alabama

In Alabama, every high school junior is required to take the ACT to graduate, though they do not need to achieve a particular score to leave high school. However, starting with the Class of 2028, seniors will need to attain at least one of 10 indicators of college and career readiness, one of which is a benchmark score on at least one ACT subtest.

Those scores are:

  • ​Reading — 22
  • Math — 22
  • Science — 23
  • English — 18

These are also the benchmark scores used to measure the percentage of students who are considered proficient in each subject, a key factor in schools’ and districts’ academic achievement and student progress ratings.

Current State of the ACT in Alabama

Across the country, ACT scores have dropped since the COVID-19 pandemic, including in Alabama. In 2023, the average nationwide composite score for the ACT was 19.5, and Alabama’s average was 18. However, since Alabama is one of only eight states in which 100% of students take the ACT, it’s more accurate to compare average scores across those states. Alabama ranked fifth out of those eight states in 2023.

Of greater concern than composite averages is the fact that less than half of Alabama high school students meet ACT benchmarks. In 2023, 42% of students met the English benchmark, 30% met the reading benchmark, 18% met the math benchmark, and 21% met the science benchmark. These scores indicate that many Alabama students leave high school without the base of knowledge they need to succeed in college.

Many Alabama educators report concerns that the ACT is not well aligned with the state curriculum, meaning that the assessment may not effectively measure what students are learning in the classroom. While this concern may lead to standards changes in the future, at present this potential disconnect points to the need for effective ACT-specific preparation courses and materials in Alabama high schools.

ACT WorkKeys and Accountability in Alabama

In addition to the required ACT, Alabama students may choose to take the ACT WorkKeys, a standardized assessment that measures critical work-related skills. While WorkKeys scores are not part of the academic achievement or academic progress calculations used in accountability scoring, a “silver” score on WorkKeys (which indicates proficiency in all measured domains) is one of the ten ways in which students can demonstrate college and career readiness. Meeting the CCR standard will be required for the classes of 2028 and onward to graduate, and the percentage of students who meet CCR standards in each school makes up 5% of its state and federal accountability scores.

How Are School Grades Used in Alabama?

In Alabama, like in all states, accountability reports must be publicly searchable and accessible. That means that a school’s federal rating and state letter grade can significantly impact its reputation and status within the state and community.

These scores are also used to designate high- and low-performing schools per the Alabama Accountability Act.

Rewards for Strong Performance

Each year, schools have the opportunity to earn the designation of Legislative School Performance Recognition Program Schools. These schools represent the top 25% of schools, as well as schools that have demonstrated exemplary progress by increasing their overall annual state accountability rating by at least one full letter grade. Schools that receive this award are eligible for financial rewards in varying amounts based on annual funding availability.

Consequences of Low Scores

As of the 2023-2024 school year, a state score of D or F has significant consequences for a school. Students enrolled in these “priority schools” are now entitled to choose from a menu of options to ensure the quality of their education moving forward:

  • Transfer to a school in their district that earned at least a “C” if there is room
  • Attend a school in a different district that earned at least a “C,” if the district will accept them
  • Receive a tax credit scholarship to attend a participating private school
  • Stay enrolled in the priority school

Solutions for Improving School Accountability Ratings in Alabama

Schools in Alabama need to increase their standardized test scores to improve accountability ratings and prepare students for life after graduation, but school leaders and educators face critical challenges in doing so. Teachers and school budgets are already stretched thin, with instructional time at a premium. Plus, differences between the state curriculum and ACT and WorkKeys content matter can challenge students, and understanding test-taking strategy is vital to achieving a high score.

That’s why MasteryPrep offers equitable, mastery-based learning systems for school districts to improve student performance on ACT and WorkKeys and raise their accountability ratings. These programs connect the content already being taught in classrooms to the assessments students must take, refresh students’ understanding of the material most likely to be assessed, and give students the test-specific skills and strategies they need to succeed. Most importantly, all MasteryPrep solutions are ready-to-use and fully supported, meaning that educators don’t need to take valuable time away from instruction or lesson planning.

MasteryPrep’s ACT Prep for Schools is a comprehensive solution that increases student scores using a simple, proven process. It includes professional development for teachers, practice tests to assess students’ starting points at the beginning of the year, and an in-depth curriculumwith both in-class practice and digital SnapCourses that provide an engaging, online experience that adapts to each individual student.

MasteryPrep’s WorkKeys solutions include the MasteryPrep Curriculum, three student workbooks with thousands of practice tests and step-by-step explanations, plus additional supportive materials for teachers.

MasteryPrep also offers Boot Camps for both the ACT and WorkKeys. Boot Camps are half-day events that provide students with a targeted, last-minute review of both content and test-taking strategy. Each Boot Camp is led by a MasteryPrep-certified instructor and can be delivered in person or virtually.

Equipped with MasteryPrep solutions, educators can reduce stress while equitably improving student outcomes and ultimately raising their schools’ accountability scores.

Learn more about MasteryPrep’s ACT and WorkKeys solutions

About MasteryPrep:

MasteryPrep provides mastery-based college readiness services and resources for the SAT®, ACT®, TSIA2, EOC, and WorkKeys®. MasteryPrep is the nationally preferred SAT and ACT prep provider of the Council for Opportunity in Education and licensed by ACT to include official ACT test questions in its programs. MasteryPrep partners with schools and districts to help level the standardized assessment playing field. MasteryPrep has ranked among the Inc. 5000 “Fastest Growing Companies” for six years and is a featured “Entrepreneur 360” company.


MasteryPrep is here to bridge the gap in an e-learning environment by providing your students with much needed college readiness preparation.

Check out our distance learning solutions:

Or click here to download our newly updated catalog.