Most schools rank high
many campuses and districts needed projection to reach top
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.