Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tougher state standards affect school ratings

Tougher state standards affect school ratings
Education commissioner says the intent is to gradually drive student performance up.

By Laura Heinauer
Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tougher standards made it harder for campuses to earn the highest grades on the state's report card this year, Texas Education Agency officials said Wednesday, and harder for struggling schools to win their way free of the threat of closure triggered by earning the state's lowest rating.

The annual ratings — exemplary, the highest rating; recognized; academically acceptable; and academically unacceptable — are given to campuses and districts based on student performance on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills as well as graduation and dropout rates. Wednesday's results were preliminary; campuses and school districts can appeal the ratings.

Statewide, 43 percent of schools were exemplary or recognized, compared with 37 percent last year.

Of 8,061 Texas campuses, 3.7 percent were unacceptable. Last year, there were seven schools that had been unacceptable for three or more years, which means they could be closed by the state. This year, there were 15.

Robert Scott, acting Texas education commissioner, said a 5 percentage point increase in TAKS passing standards for the recognized and acceptable ratings was the main reason many schools saw their ratings slip.

In 2005, the last time standards increased, the number of schools rated unacceptable more than doubled. The following year, scores improved.

"The system was designed . . . to gradually drive student performance up," Scott said. "As we raise standards . . . we're hopeful that school districts will rise to the challenge in the future."

In Austin, seven campuses were rated exemplary, up from six last year; 18 schools earned recognized ratings this year.

Ten Austin schools were rated unacceptable, including Johnston High, which has been rated unacceptable for four years, and Perez Elementary, which opened last fall. Last year, Austin had eight schools that were rated unacceptable.

Pearce Middle School, which got an unacceptable rating for the third straight year, faces a campus overhaul. It will open this year with a new principal and many new teachers.

Webb Middle School, which had fallen short of state standards for three consecutive years, was rated acceptable this year. Crockett High School, Dobie Middle School and the International High School for immigrant students also got off the low-performing list.

Superintendent Pat Forgione said he was pleased that six of the district's recognized schools had large numbers of students from low-income families.

"If they can do it, then we can do it for all kids," Forgione said.

Among suburban Central Texas districts, Eanes and Wimberley in Hays County held on to their recognized ratings, and another Lake Travis school was rated exemplary.

But other districts lost ground. For the first time under the current state accountability system, campuses in Del Valle and Pflugerville received unacceptable ratings. In Caldwell County, the Luling school district received an overall unacceptable rating.

Del Valle officials said they would increase resources and personnel at Baty Elementary, where passing rates fell on the science test. The district did have a low-performing campus under the previous rating system, which ended in 2002.

Pflugerville Superintendent Charles Dupre attributed River Oaks Elementary School's drop in writing scores to systemic issues at the district and campus levels. Six Pflugerville campuses received a recognized rating, including Timmerman Elementary School, which was rated exemplary last year.

In Manor, two of three underperforming campuses improved to earn acceptable ratings. Only Decker Elementary School stayed unacceptable.

Lago Vista's overall rating dropped to acceptable from recognized as did two campuses.

Ratings for some schools could have been worse. For this year only, the Texas Education Agency agreed not to lower a school's rating if too many students drop out or too few graduate, to give districts time to transition to a stricter method of calculating dropout and high school completion rates.; 445-3694

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