Students in low-performing schools have way out -- maybe

Posted Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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It has been argued for decades that no student should be "trapped" in a bad school, and in 1995 the Texas Legislature passed a law to provide students so ensnared a way out.

Creation of the Public Education Grant (PEG) Program theoretically gave parents the option of transferring their children from a "low performing" school to a better one in another district. A school makes the PEG list if 50 percent or fewer of its students passed the Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) and the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) in any two of the preceding three years. A campus also would be listed as low-performing if it were rated "academically unacceptable" in 2010 or 201l.

The qualifier "theoretically" is necessary because there are barriers inherent in the program, not the least of which has been the confusion among parents, educators and district administrators on how it is implemented.

With changing standardized tests and accountability standards over the years, it is difficult to keep up with how individual students and schools are measured. For example, because of the state transitioning from the TAKS to STAAR testing, no state accountability ratings were issued in 2012.

And although students have the right to apply for admission to another district, the "receiving" district is not required to accept them. While a district can't discriminate on the basis of race or other specified factors, it may not have the space to accommodate out-of-district students.

The law does not require transportation for the transferring student, which could present a hardship for those in low-income families.

For whatever reasons, very few people have taken advantage of the opportunity to switch districts. In the 2011-12 school year, the number of transferees was up sharply to 1,574, compared with 358 in 2010-2011. In 2010-11, there were 566 campuses on the list with 394,670 students eligible to transfer, meaning only 4 percent made use of it.

The Texas Education Agency this month released its list of low-performing PEG schools for the 2013-2014 school year. On it are 456 schools statewide, 41 in Tarrant County (including 23 in Fort Worth, six in Crowley and five in Arlington). There are 305,486 students on the statewide list who are eligible to transfer to other districts.

The affected schools have until Feb. 1 to notify families about options under the PEG Program.

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