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Alabama student scores on the Stanford Achievement Test matched or exceeded the national average in every grade tested for the first time, but six poorly performing public schools are headed for state intervention.
About 463,000 students in grades 3-11 took the Stanford 9, with the scores released Thursday being used for the fifth straight year to measure the academic performance of their schools and school systems.
State school superintendent Ed Richardson described the scores as "incredible," with Alabama schools continuing to be funded far below the national average. A U.S. Census Bureau report found Alabama ranked near the bottom nationally by spending $4,577 for each pupil in 1997.
Improved SAT scores allowed 41 of 47 schools that last year moved to the brink of state intervention to avoid it.
The six schools headed for intervention are Louisville High School in Barbour County, Lowndes County Middle School, Cloverdale Junior High in Montgomery County, Russell County High School, Cobb Elementary School in Anniston and Jess Lanier High School in Bessemer.
Those campuses join the lone holdover from last year's state intervention list, Litchfield High School in Gadsden.
Litchfield did not show enough improvement to escape intervention, which can involve an actual takeover of a school's academic management. The state intervened in Litchfield's academic program last July after a third straight year of low SAT scores. Teachers at the school said recently that classes have since been geared almost solely toward the SAT.
Richardson said state intervention typically will take more than one year to make a difference.
Five school systems - Greene County, Lowndes County, Macon County, Sumter County and Bessemer - improved scores enough to end their slides and avoid state intervention.
The scores increased in grades 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 and remained the same in grades 3, 5 and 11.
Gov. Don Siegelman said the record performance is proof of the state's "commitment" to upgrade public education.
State school board vice president Ethel Hall agreed.
"I am very encouraged by the upward trend in these scores," Hall said.
The state scored at or above the national average of 50 in every subject - reading 50, math 57, language 59, science 57 and social science 55.
Toby Roth, a spokesman for Alabama Citizens for a Sound Economy, disagreed with suggestions that the scores are encouraging.
"I would argue if we have gone from one state takeover school to seven in a year's time we haven't turned the corner," Roth said. "For the parents of those children in those seven state turnover schools - I think they would argue that we haven't turned the corner either."
Roth said the state should allow children at those failing schools to go elsewhere.
State Sen. Bill Armistead, R-Columbiana, agreed, saying parents of students at the seven schools should be given the option of sending the students to other schools. Armistead unsuccessfully sponsored legislation this year that would have allowed students in failing schools to attend elsewhere.
"They can't afford to waste another year on their journey to become properly educated," Armistead said.
Last year, eight of the nine grades tested scored at or above the national average. Tenth-graders missed the average by 1 percentile point. The scores last year matched or exceeded 1998.
When former Gov. Fob James, the Legislature and state school board decided to use the SAT as the main measuring device for academic performance starting in 1996, the state created three levels for student achievement. They are academic clear, in which a majority of students score at least 40, academic caution, in which a majority of students score below 40, and academic alert, where a majority of students score below 23.
If an underperforming system or school fails to meet the caution improvement standard for successive years, it slides to Alert 2 and becomes subject to state takeover the following year.