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16 Arlington schools would be academically unacceptable without safe harbors, trustees hear

ARLINGTON -- Sixteen of the Arlington district's schools would be rated academically unacceptable by the state for 2010 if they were evaluated on their 2009 testing results and given no help from "safe harbor" exceptions provided by the Texas Education Agency, administrators told trustees Monday night.

However, that's not likely to become a reality.

The district's board of trustees scheduled a special meeting for Monday night to hear where the district stands in accountability ratings and what it can expect in the future. Administrators prepared a report that's more than 1,800 pages long and filled with charts of districtwide data and improvement plans from schools.

Accountability ratings come out in late summer.

Superintendent Jerry McCullough's goal is to take the district from academically acceptable to recognized. He said Monday that he was proud to report that the data show an overall upward trend in achievement, something he credited to a focus on classroom instruction.

"I can sit up here and say we want to be a recognized school district, but teachers and the administration out in the schools are the ones that really carry that out," he said. "And, over the past couple of years as superintendent, I have seen so much work by teachers and administrators."

Of course, he said, administrators would like to see even faster progress.

The early estimate that 16 schools could be academically unacceptable was based on their 2009 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills passing rates compared with more rigorous 2010 standards. For example, in one of several changes, the passing standard in math and science has been increased by 5 percentage points.

The estimate, however, didn't include any of three "safe harbors" that helped about a third of the schools in the district achieve a higher rating last year, said Dr. Wally Carter, director of accountability and testing for the district.

Those safe harbors are available again this year. They include exceptions that give some schools credit for meeting a standard when they fall short by just a few points or don't meet the standard but show "required improvement" in that area. Another option is the Texas Projection Measure, which gives credit for students who don't pass but are projected to do so in the future.

Official 2010 testing results won't be available until summer. So administrators don't know how students did or what safe harbors they might earn. Carter said though that schools typically do better than the early projections.

In their long presentation to trustees Monday, administrators also included details about what they've been doing to make sure that the district raises itself to the more rigorous standards.

Two of Arlington's schools were rated academically unacceptable for 2009. Six were exemplary. Thirty-three were recognized, and 27 were academically acceptable. The district was rated academically acceptable.

TRACI SHURLEY, 817-390-7641

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