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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Changes mean tougher road for schools

Unclear future on credit for student gains

Kimberly Reeves | Austin KXAN News
Updated: Tuesday, 26 Apr 2011

AUSTIN (KXAN) - Education Commissioner Robert Scott ended the use of the controversial Texas Projection Measure on Friday, and the impact of his decision on Austin-area school district ratings is still hard to determine.

The Austin Independent School District, like many across the state, benefited from the Texas Projection Measure last year. More than half the school districts in Texas saw their ratings boosted because of it, along with thousands of school campuses.

The accountability system's newly incorporated measure , requested by lawmakers and created by the Texas Education Agency, bumped up ratings based upon a statistical model’s prediction of how well students would do on the next year’s state-mandated test. That raised a lot of doubts in the public about the soundness of the measure, which the elimination of TPM now addresses.

"The commissioner made the right call," said Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce senior vice president Drew Scheberle. "Elimination of TPM will restore the credibility of the Texas accountability system. Business people throughout the region had a hard time believing that students who fail the TAKS test but might pass some time in the next three years should be counted as passing."

How significant was the impact of eliminating TPM? Well, if you go to the Texas Education Agency's accountability website and type in the name of your school district, it appears more than two-dozen campuses in Austin benefited from TPM, along with more than a dozen campuses in the Round Rock school district and four campuses in San Marcos CISD.

Here are a number of area campuses that have higher ratings, in all or part, due to a boost from TPM: Austin and Bowie high schools in Austin ISD, along with Kealing Middle School; Westwood, McNeil and Stony Point high schools in Round Rock ISD; Lake Travis High School and Hudson Bend Middle School in Lake Travis ISD: and Bowie Elementary and Miller Middle School in San Marcos CISD.

The commissioner, along with a focus group and an advisory committee, makes key decisions about changes in the state’s accountability system each year, such as the percentage passing required to qualify for each rating category. In his annual announcement on Friday, Scott chose to toss out TPM after some scathing reviews from key lawmaker Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, and a unanimous vote in the House to end the use of TPM as part of House Bill 500.

Scott wrote, in his decision document released on Friday, that such criticism of the TPM detracted from actual gains in student test scores, which showed growth in every subject and every student group.

“Unfortunately, this hard work is overshadowed by criticism of the use of the TPM, including an assertion made on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives during debate on House Bill 500 that school ratings in 2010 went up without demonstrations of increases in performance,” Scott wrote. “The commissioner does not want the TPM to continue to detract from the achievements of students and educators.”

Scott called the TPM sound and statistically valid after a year of use, comparing it to the methodology behind SAT and ACT tests, but lawmakers such as Hochberg had doubts. Scott's own children attend Bowie High School, and he told reporters he thought no less of the school's quality and achievement because TPM had bumped the campus from "academically acceptable" to "recognized."

To many lawmakers and parents, however, the decision to base better ratings on a statistical model that predicted what students might do one or two years down the road was questionable, and the model’s reliability grew fuzzier and less accurate the closer the scores drew to the passing score.

Criticism of the TPM was no more than political rhetoric seized by Democrat Bill White’s campaign for governor last year, Scott has told numerous audiences. The vote to end TPM, however, was bipartisan and unanimous in the House.

Hochberg, for his part, released a single sentence on Scott’s decision yesterday: “The Commissioner's decision will provide better confidence that improved ratings really reflect the hard work of students, teachers and parents, instead of the results of statistical manipulation.”

The agency has no firm predictions about what the future, minus TPM, might hold. New school and district ratings, based on this spring’s test scores, will be released at the end of July.

Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe did predict that the exclusion of the projection measure would probably have the greatest impact on those campuses that had moved from “recognized” to “exemplary” with the use of TPM, even more than those that moved from "academically acceptable" to "recognized."

Just because TPM is gone doesn't mean growth measures are out. A new growth will have to be incorporated when the state starts its new STAAR testing system . In fact, the state will not be issuing accountablity ratings in 2012, waiting until 2013 to break in the new ratings system.

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