County ranks 33rd in child well-being
by Daniel Gaddy
Sep 29, 2010 | 1118 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
According to a report released by a child advocacy organization, Walker County and Alabama improved in several areas relating to child safety, health and education.

VOICES for Alabama’s Children released its publication Alabama Kids Count Data Book Tuesday. The report provides data regarding factors that relate to child well-being in the state.

The book covers indicators such as infant mortality rates, standardized test scores and the amount of children living in poverty for each county. Walker County ranked 33rd overall in the list of 67 counties.

In general, northern counties in the state like Shelby and Cleburne counties received the best rankings in the state while southern counties like Dallas and Lowndes ranked the lowest.

Alabama saw improvements in the amount of births to unmarried teens, the rate of child deaths and the frequency of births to unmarried teens not finishing high school.

Linda Tilly, executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children, said the reduction in child deaths is due in part to statewide policies requiring children to be placed in booster seats. She said VOICES pushed Alabama lawmakers to enact those policies.

“VOICES made child passenger safety a top legislative priority,” she said in a press release. “It’s made a big difference.”

Despite the strides made by the state, Alabama ranked 47th overall in the nation according to the organization’s data book.

According to the report, Walker County made improvements in factors such as the number of first-graders having to repeat the grade level, from 9.1 percent in 1998 to 5.1 percent in 2008; and preventable teen death rates, from 116 reported cases to 92.4. However, Walker County worsened in the area of low infant birth weight, from 9.1 percent to 9.8 percent.

The organization’s data book also included data from standardized tests and graduation rates. VOICES included results from state third-graders’ reading and math scores. Officials with the group say a child’s academic progress in the third grade is representative of his or her success throughout grade school.

Third-graders in the Walker County School System improved from the 2004-2005 school year to the 2008-2009 school year, according to the group. The report states 43 percent of city school students scored at a level 4 or the highest reading proficiency in 2005. In 2009, that rate grew to 51 percent. For math, the percentage of children scoring in the highest proficiency grew from 41 percent to 48 percent. However, the school districts graduation rate fell from 47.5 percent in 2000 to 45.3 percent in 2009.

The Jasper City Schools’ graduation rate grew from 72.6 percent to 77.3 percent from 2000 to 2009. The school district also had its third-grade math proficiency rate grow from 63 percent to 69 percent.

Jasper City Schools Superintendent Robert Sparkman said the group’s figures for reading and math don’t tell the whole story. He said children who score in level three of the Alabama Reading and Math Test are considered proficient, too. If those scores are factored, the school district’s third-grade math proficiency rate changes to 89 percent in 2005 and 92 percent in 2009. For reading proficiency, 90 percent of city third-graders scored at level three or four in 2005 and 92 percent did so in 2009.

Sparkman added he is not sure how the VOICES report calculated graduation rates, but the data he has seen puts Walker High School’s graduation rate at 89.6 percent.

Efforts to reach Diana Little, director of assessment for Walker County Schools, were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Third-graders throughout Alabama improved in reading proficiency, from 45 percent to 53 percent; and math proficiency, from 63 percent to 69 percent. However, the state’s graduation rate fell from 65 percent to 62 percent.

Tilly said in the press release that officials from VOICES hope Alabama lawmakers will take a close look at the organization’s data.

“Families and local programs greatly contribute to the life outcomes for children, but so does public policy,” Tilly said. “Our leaders need to remember that they represent not only the adults of their districts but the children as well, and they need to know how the children are doing.”