August 8, 2014

State’s 2014 accountability ratings released

Some districts praise the new accountability system while Arlington calls for its to be simplified and have local control.

For the second consecutive year, school districts across Tarrant County met the state’s accountability standards, but 37 schools failed to meet the benchmark, according to results released Friday.

School districts, individual campuses and charter schools received “met standard” or “improvement required” ratings under the accountability system. Statewide, about 90 percent of school districts and 85 percent of schools received passing marks, according to the Texas Education Agency.

School districts and schools also received special distinctions for academic achievement.

“Texans should be pleased to see the vast majority of districts, charters and campuses are meeting the standards set in the second year of the state accountability system,” said Commissioner of Education Michael Williams.

Among the area schools that received “improvement required” ratings, 24 are from the Fort Worth district, four are from Arlington, three are from Crowley, and two each are from the Keller and Northwest districts.

Last year, Fort Worth had 28 schools that needed improvement.

“While our goal is for all campuses to meet standard, we are pleased that more campuses were rated as having ‘met standard’ in 2014 than in 2013,” said Pat Linares, interim superintendent for the Fort Worth school district.

Fort Worth had 56 campuses that received one or more distinction from the state — up 14 from last year.

The system, which essentially takes a pass-fail approach, is based on four index measures: results from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness; year-to-year student progress; the closing performance gaps for low-performing student groups; and college and career readiness at graduation.

Districts and schools received a “met standard” rating for meeting all index measures. Those that fail to reach one or more index targets are hit with the “improvement required” ratings, which carry sanctions if the problems persist over a period of time.

“Generally, our feeling is that the new system is more balanced,” said Michael Sorum, deputy superintendent of the Fort Worth school district.

The state’s previous accountability system handed down ratings ranging from “exemplary” to “academically unacceptable” and was often criticized for focusing too much on general and cumulative information.

Several area superintendents described the ratings as just one tool that can be used to track student achievement.

“Our students distinguish themselves throughout the year in all areas of academics and achievement — at regional, state and national levels,” said Northwest school district Superintendent Karen Rue. “The scores are one source of information to use in planning for student success,”

This year’s ratings are part of a multiyear phase-in process, which makes judging the results complicated, educators say.

“Until we get done with phasing in, we’re not comparing apples to apples, and it’s very confusing to try to draw comparisons,” said Charlie Carroll, chief academic officer for the Keller school district.

Arlington school district

In Arlington, 34 of the district’s 69 campuses eligible to receive distinctions received at least one. Two of the district’s schools — Ferguson Junior High and Ashworth Elementary — received all the distinctions they were eligible for.

Four campuses need improvement, which is up one from last year. This year’s campuses are Sam Houston High School, the Newcomer Center and Wimbish and Webb elementary schools.

Three elementary schools — Ellis, Speer and Thornton — that failed to meet passing standards last year made the necessary improvements for this year’s ratings.

Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos said school leaders analyzed data down to the individual student and made sure interventions were timely and purposeful, which is what they will again do this year.

“At those schools, the task is to refine intervention systems,” Cavazos said. “That begins with leadership and then the teachers — this is work that is being done as we continue to ensure state standards are clear.”

Arlington’s results came one day after the district’s board members voted 6-0 to approve its 2015 Legislative Agenda asking the state to ease up on the “complex” and “confusing” standards. It also wants local districts to have more control when dealing with schools that get an “improvement required” rating.

“Local control over accountability is important because that is where the difference and the affect can be made,” Cavazos said. “The autonomy of the local school district is important because that’s where the data analysis is done. It’s the closest source.”

Keller school district

Carroll, the chief academic officer, said there were few surprises in the accountability results.

Two elementary schools — Parkview and Heritage — were given “improvement required” ratings.

“We knew we were going to have campuses decline, but it’s a more accurate score than last year because there were groups left out that are now included,” Carroll said.

Campus and district scores declined slightly in closing achievement gaps, although the state standards were met, Carroll said.

Carroll said 16 campuses earned one or more distinctions for advanced performance in core subjects, student progress, closing performance gaps and postsecondary readiness.

Mansfield school district

In the Mansfield school district, 28 schools received at least one distinction.

“We’re pleased that all of our schools met standards, but we know there are areas to improve,” said Darrell Sneed, associate superintendent for curriculum, instruction and accountability. “I will tell you that every principal will make sure that every child is college and career ready.”

He said that over the past year the district has taken several steps to improve student performance, including additional training for planning and communication between teachers and between teachers and administrators, and making sure students are learning at their grade level.

Staff writers Sandra Engelland and Robert Cadwallader contributed to this report, which contains information from Star-Telegram archives.

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