Many Tarrant County schools, districts see state ratings rise

Many area schools and districts made improvements on their state accountability ratings, including Keller High, which joined Carroll Senior High as Tarrant County's second exemplary high school, and the Arlington and Castleberry districts, which are recognized for the first time.

Two Fort Worth high schools -- Carter-Riverside and Trimble Tech -- also are recognized for the first time under the current accountability rating system. But the Fort Worth district had five schools rated academically unacceptable, including Diamond-Hill Elementary, where staff members have been accused of changing answers on TAKS tests.

The 2010 ratings were released Friday.

Most of the area districts received recognized status, including Aledo, Azle, Burleson, Eagle-Mountain Saginaw, Everman, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Grapevine-Colleyville, Keller, Mansfield and Northwest.

Birdville, Cleburne, Fort Worth, Kennedale, Lake Worth and White Settlement are rated academically acceptable, while Crowley is rated academically unacceptable. Crowley officials have said they will appeal the ruling.

The four-tiered rating system is based largely on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests with schools receiving an exemplary, recognized, academically acceptable or academically unacceptable rating.

Some of the improvements were not based on merit alone, as schools and districts relied on state provisions to bump up their ratings. Nine Tarrant County area districts and 260 schools had boosted ratings because of such provisions, including the Texas Projection Measure, which gives schools credit for how well students are expected to do in the future.

Critics say the TPM doesn't provide a true picture of student performance, and State Education Commissioner Robert Scott is considering eliminating the provision.

Statewide, 239 school districts and 2,624 schools received the top exemplary rating, while 45 districts and 125 schools were academically unacceptable.

More than 75 percent of Texas schools rated were labeled exemplary or recognized. In Tarrant County, that figure is about 70 percent.

Scott said TAKS passing and completion rates were up statewide, while dropout rates for secondary grades declined.

"However, a number of schools and districts did use progress measures or exceptions to move up one rating category," Scott said in a news release. "We understand that some people have concerns with these measures, particularly with the Texas Projection Measure."

Northeast Tarrant

Officials with the H-E-B district, which is recognized, said they intend to appeal their rating in hopes of being bumped up to exemplary.

"Our student performance, as measured by the TAKS test, is exemplary across the board, and with those criteria, we would qualify for a district exemplary rating," spokeswoman Judy Ramos said.

The district will argue that the problem is the status of three students who are counted as not completing school. Two of the students are incarcerated, and a third, a Hurricane Katrina evacuee, returned to New Orleans.

Southlake-based Carroll is the sole exemplary rated school district in Tarrant County and one of 239 statewide. Westlake Academy, a charter school operated by the town of Westlake, also received the top rating.

Birdville is the only Northeast Tarrant area school to be rated academically acceptable, and two of its three high schools received that rating.

Birdville district spokesman Mark Thomas said the rating label doesn't tell the whole story and that the district is showing continued improvements in academic performance.

He said if the ratings were based on academic performance alone, the district would have been recognized. But completion rates kept it "acceptable." "We were real close to recognized, but we didn't make it," Thomas said. "We're making great strides."

In Keller, officials say the academic performance of students was exemplary, but completion rates kept the district recognized.

The district last year launched initiatives to help students finish school, including calling and visiting students' homes to determine if the district could help, said Deana Lopez, Keller's assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

Twenty-four of the district's 36 schools were rated exemplary, including Keller High, making it the second high school in Tarrant County to achieve the highest rating.

Parkview Elementary School dropped two spots from exemplary to acceptable because of performance on the math exam.

Fort Worth area

Word of Everman's recognized district rating spread through its education community "like wildfire," said Superintendent Jeri Pfeifer.

Although Everman's rating was boosted by the TPM, it is still a good indicator of district performance, according to Pfeifer.

"Our kids need to reach high levels all the time," Pfeifer said. "You've got to be very careful to align the data with the standards, and that is what TPM is trying to do."

In Eagle Mountain-Saginaw, nine schools showed improvement, with seven of 13 elementary schools earning exemplary ratings. Remington Point Elementary improved two spots from acceptable to exemplary.

"We are very proud of the rating. Our staff has really worked hard. They've been to a lot a training, put in extra hours and really deserve the rating," said district spokeswoman Kristin Courtney.

Castleberry Superintendent Gary Jones said despite the help from TPM, which was used to bump up its science performance, the district saw improvement in nearly all categories except reading, where the scores dipped one point from 89 to 88.

"Do we feel good about the rating? Absolutely," Jones said. "We can show improvement in every category without TPM. So we can truly say we are a recognized district because of our student and staff achievement."

Arlington area

As expected, the Arlington school district earned its first-ever recognized rating, with 39 of the district's 68 campuses receiving either exemplary or recognized ratings. Bowie High improved from academically acceptable to recognized for the first time, while Martin High repeated as a recognized campus and the other four high schools retained their acceptable ratings.

Although TPM played a role in several campuses improving their ratings, school officials said that doesn't diminish student gains from hard work over the past year.

"At Bowie, they really took it upon themselves to be recognized this year and showed some actual improvement even if you put TPM aside at that school," district spokeswoman Amy Casas said. "That speaks to the good things that have been happening in the district."

In Mansfield, 11 schools were exemplary and 22 were recognized, including the three schools that opened this year. The remaining four received acceptable ratings.

The district plans to appeal Summit High School's acceptable rating after learning that five or six students who were coded as dropouts had actually moved to other Texas schools, spokesman Richie Escovedo said.

"That small number of students kept Summit from being a recognized campus," he said.

Fort Worth district

Eastern Hills and Polytechnic high schools were among five schools in Fort Worth to earn unacceptable ratings, along with Meadowbrook Middle and Morningside and Diamond Hill elementaries.

Superintendent Melody Johnson said the district plans to appeal the ratings for Polytechnic, Diamond Hill and Meadowbrook.

Johnson said Polytechnic, which last year avoided possible state closure by being rated acceptable, met acceptable academic standards but its completion rate dropped it to unacceptable. Johnson said the rate was low in part because of students who were court-ordered to pursue GEDs so they were counted as dropouts.

"It was a blow when they first found out," Johnson said of the return to the poor rating.

Johnson said it shows a flaw in the accountability system -- when a school is penalized for circumstances out of its control, such as court orders.

Johnson said three students were incorrectly labeled as dropouts for Meadowbrook, which should improve the rating to acceptable.

Fort Worth had six middle schools -- the Applied Learning Academy, J.P. Elder, Riverside, Rosemont, Stripling, and Rosemont 6th -- earn recognized ratings.

Dunbar and South Hills high schools were both rated academically acceptable after being on the unacceptable list for three years in a row.

The district had 12 exemplary campuses and 37 recognized.

Johnson said she was proud of the significant progresses being made, particularly in math, where high school students saw double-digit gains. Johnson said students are making gains.

"The labels may change and the statuses change, but the bottom line is student progress," she said.

Staff writers Jessamy Brown, Shirley Jinkins and Robert Cadwallader contributed to this report.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700