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Monday, January 03, 2011

42 DISD campuses make TEA list of state's worst schools

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
Friday, December 17, 2010
 AUSTIN – One of the most dreaded lists to come out of the Texas Education Agency annually – identifying the worst schools in the state – includes the names of 42 campuses in the Dallas school district and nearly 369 schools statewide this year.

Released Thursday by the agency, the list is made up of schools where student test scores were too low or recent school ratings were "unacceptable," giving students the right to transfer to another campus under the state's Public Education Grant program.

Dallas had the largest number of subpar schools – more than 11 percent of the state's total. Houston came in second with 25 schools on the list. Fort Worth had 23.

The number of Dallas schools was down slightly from last year when 48 were labeled PEG schools.
DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander said the list should be viewed in perspective.

"Every indicator, from school performance to graduation rates to financial stability, indicates that Dallas ISD is moving in the right direction," he said. "For example, the number of exemplary schools has quadrupled since 2007, going from 14 in 2007 to 66 in 2010. Our work, however, is not yet complete, and we are committed to continuing to improve school and student performance."
Other area districts with schools on the list were Arlington and De Soto, with three each; Grand Prairie and Lancaster, with two each; and McKinney and Plano, with one each.
Transportation obstacle

Only a few of the estimated 250,000 students eligible to transfer from schools on the list – representing about one in 20 campuses – are expected to do so because there's no state funding for transportation. Officials have said lack of transportation is one of the biggest obstacles for students and parents interested in switching to another school under the program.

Typically, fewer than 500 students transfer each year, although supporters of the option say they are looking for ways to give more students and parents the ability to switch if they desire.
Several lawmakers have said the state should consider transportation assistance for PEG students to encourage participation, but funding remains unlikely while the state deals with budget problems next year.

Schools on the list had to have 50 percent or more of their students fail the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in any two of the last three years or an "academically unacceptable" rating in any one of the last three years.

State officials said many of the students at those schools had particular trouble with the math and science sections of the TAKS. Poor performance ratings were frequently linked to students having difficulty with those subjects.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the TEA, noted that the number of campuses listed dropped from 499 last year to 369 this year in large part because of higher TAKS scores at most grade levels and improved graduation rates in high schools – which helped ratings. "The figures have been dropping as the school accountability system matures and more schools tend to earn a higher rating," she said.
New-test effect
When the state switched from the old Texas Assessment of Academic Skills to the TAKS several years ago, there was a jump in the number of PEG campuses. But the figure has gradually declined.
Similarly, when the state switches to the tougher State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) in the 2011-12 school year, the number of PEG schools is expected to sharply increase.
The schools are being identified now because most districts consider transfer requests several months before the start of each school year. Parents must be notified of the option by Feb. 1, with students allowed to enroll at a new school next fall.

Students can transfer to another public school in their own district or a neighboring district – if that district agrees to accept them. Those that do enroll students under the program receive a financial incentive from the state – an extra 10 percent in funding per pupil.
Districts' refusal
A major obstacle to district-to-district transfers is the right of any district to refuse to accept PEG students from neighboring districts. The extra funding is provided to encourage acceptance of those students, but many districts are still reluctant to participate.
"Districts don't have to accept transfers [from other districts] and often they don't have enough space to accommodate those students," Ratcliffe noted.

To get an acceptable rating from the state earlier this year – and avoid the PEG list – a school had to have a passing rate of at least 60 percent in math and 55 percent in science on the TAKS, with higher percentages required in English, social studies and writing.

The list would be longer if independent charter schools were included, but students attend those campuses voluntarily and may transfer back to their home school district at any time.

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