Most schools rank high

many cam­puses and dis­tricts needed pro­jec­tion to reach top

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Melissa B. Taboada

For the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year, more than two of three schools statewide earned top aca­demic hon­ors — ex­em­plary and rec­og­nized rat­ings — Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency of­fi­cials an­nounced Fri­day.

But even as he lauded the num­bers, state Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner Robert Scott de­fended the spe­cial for­mu­las used to help most cam­puses boost their rat­ings a level and claim those ti­tles.

The Texas Pro­jec­tion Mea­sure al­lows dis­tricts to count as pass­ing cer­tain stu­dents who fail but are pro­jected to pass within three years. Crit­ics say the sys­tem gives a false boost to dis­tricts.

“If you look at the data of what we pro­jected in 2009 and what hap­pened in 2010, it proved out, al­most to ev­ery cam­pus,” Scott said Fri­day. “Many of the dis­tricts and cam­puses that are rated ex­em­plary or rec­og­nized this year would have been rec­og­nized or ex­em­plary any­way, even with­out TPM.”

But fig­ures re­leased Fri­day by the Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency show that statewide this year, only 33 per­cent of the 5,777 ex­em­plary and rec­og­nized cam­puses earned those rat­ings with­out us­ing ex­emp­tions or spe­cial mea­sures.

In the Austin district, 68 of the district’s 110 schools achieved the top two rat­ings, the most since the state-man­dated Texas As­sess­ment of Knowl­edge and Skills was first ad­min­is­tered in 2003. How­ever, fewer than half of those cam­puses met the ab­so­lute state stan­dard on their own.

To earn an ex­em­plary rat­ing, the state re­quires that 90 per­cent of stu­dents pass the TAKS, that 95 per­cent of high school stu­dents ei­ther

Con­tin­ued from A grad­u­ate on time or con­tinue high school for a fifth year, and that a district have an an­nual mid­dle school dropout rate of 1.8 per­cent or less. To earn a rec­og­nized rat­ing, at least 80 per­cent of stu­dents must pass the TAKS, and the com­ple­tion rate must be 85 per­cent.

As Austin Su­per­in­ten­dent Meria Carstarphen an­nounced in June, only one cam­pus, East­side Me­mo­rial Green Tech High School, re­ceived the state’s low­est rat­ing of aca­dem­i­cally un­ac­cept­able. Green Tech is one of the new schools opened at the for­mer Johnston High School, which was closed by the state in 2008 af­ter it failed for five con­sec­u­tive years to meet state aca­demic and dropout stan­dards.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing crit­i­cism, Scott pointed to data that showed stu­dent progress, in­clud­ing an in­crease in TAKS pass­ing rates and high school com­ple­tion rates, as well as de­clin­ing dropout rates this year com­pared with 2009.

“If the Leg­is­la­ture wants to make a stand on this is­sue, then I will work with them next ses­sion to come up with a more ac­cu­rate way, if they think we need a more ac­cu­rate way,” Scott said at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day. “If you get down to it, this is an elec­tion year is­sue that is be­ing raised by a few peo­ple to cast doubt on this day.”

In a let­ter sent to dis­tricts across the state last month, Scott asked for in­put from school ad­min­is­tra­tors on the mea­sure­ment pro­jec­tion. At Fri­day’s news con­fer­ence, he sur­rounded him­self with su­per­in­ten­dents and prin­ci­pals who spoke to re­porters about how the sys­tem ben­e­fited their dis­tricts.

“We’re show­ing out­stand­ing gains over the years; we’re meet­ing re­quired im­prove­ment,” said Jim Palmer, su­per­in­ten­dent of the Bur­ton school district. “The abil­ity of TPM to bump us up to rec­og­nized sta­tus gives us credit for the things we’re do­ing … bring­ing our kids from two and three grade lev­els be­hind to grade level.”

State Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Hous­ton, has been one of the most vo­cal crit­ics of the sys­tem and said the is­sue isn’t par­ti­san.

He pointed to state Rep. Rob Eissler, the Repub­li­can chair­man of the House Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, and state Sen. Florence Shapiro, the Repub­li­can chair­woman of the Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, and other Repub­li­cans who have said the pro­jec­tion mea­sure was not what they had in­tended when they asked the agency to give credit for stu­dent gains.

The pro­jec­tion is sup­posed to be a mea­sure of stu­dent an­nual progress, Hochberg said. “The pro­jec­tion is how you de­ter­mine whether the an­nual progress is suf­fi­cient. It by it­self should never be part of the rat­ings.”

Some dis­tricts were quick to point out their im­prove­ments were achieved on their own merit, with­out the help of the Texas Pro­jec­tion Mea­sure.

The Round Rock district earned a rec­og­nized rat­ing over­all, a feat district of­fi­cials said was ac­com­plished with­out the use of the Texas Pro­jec­tion Mea­sure. Forty-one of its 44 schools earned ex­em­plary or rec­og­nized rat­ings, many of them with help from spe­cial mea­sures or ex­emp­tions.

“We are ex­tremely pleased with our TAKS re­sults,” Su­per­in­ten­dent Jesús Chávez said.

For the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year, the Eanes school district and all of its cam­puses earned ex­em­plary rat­ings. Ac­cord­ing to the state, none of its cam­puses used spe­cial mea­sures or ex­emp­tions to do so.

The Le­an­der school district met state stan­dards to earn a rec­og­nized rat­ing. All but three of the 35 cam­puses rated by the state this year were ei­ther ex­em­plary or rec­og­nized.

Pflugerville had 20 schools — seven more than last year — rated ex­em­plary or rec­og­nized. Five of those school met ab­so­lute state stan­dards for those rat­ings.

District of­fi­cials said they will con­test its rat­ing of aca­dem­i­cally ac­cept­able, ar­gu­ing that Pflugerville should have re­ceived a rat­ing of rec­og­nized.

Dis­tricts may ap­peal rat­ings through mid-Au­gust.

The state awarded the ac­cept­able rat­ing based on Pflugerville’s com­ple­tion rate, which re­flects the per­cent­age of stu­dents who grad­u­ate on time or con­tinue for a fifth year in high school. A com­ple­tion rate of 85 per­cent is re­quired for a rec­og­nized rat­ing, but the state cal­cu­lated Pflugerville’s rate at 84.9 per­cent.

“Pflugerville’s prom­ise to our stu­dents and our com­mu­nity is that the district will pre­pare each child for their fu­ture in our world, and I be­lieve the gains our stu­dents have made in the last few years show we are closer than ever to ful­fill­ing that prom­ise,” said Su­per­in­ten­dent Charles Dupre.

Austin’s Rea­gan High School, which for years missed state tar­gets, earned an ac­cept­able rat­ing this year, with the help of a spe­cial credit for im­prove­ment.

Carstarphen said Rea­gan pulled through this year thanks to the staff ’s hard work in iden­ti­fy­ing stu­dents who were fall­ing through the cracks.

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