Fort Worth

The rating game: Can Texas public schools be good and bad at the same time?

Big changes coming to Leadership Academy at Mitchell Boulevard

Mitchell Boulevard elementary school was listed by the state as a campus in need of improvement in 2015 and 2016. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram)
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Mitchell Boulevard elementary school was listed by the state as a campus in need of improvement in 2015 and 2016. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram)

When Texas released its 2017 preliminary accountability ratings in August, most of the schools in Tarrant County were deemed to have “met standard.”

Among those were Fort Worth’s Rosemont Middle, Crowley’s Bess Race Elementary and Eagle Mountain-Saginaw’s Northbrook Elementary.

But earlier in the summer those same three schools — and dozens of others in Tarrant County — received failing grades from Children at Risk, a Texas nonprofit that focuses on education.

Rosemont Middle received a D-minus. Bess Race got an F. Northbrook received a D. All three schools were penalized because of low reading and math scores.

The 2017 accountability ratings from the Texas Education Agency listed 23 Tarrant County schools under the category “improvement required.” But the Children at Risk report gave grades of D or F to 146 Tarrant County schools. And earlier this month, the state’s Public Education Grant list, which includes the lowest-performing schools that must allow students to transfer if they choose, contained 83 Tarrant County schools.

School report cards are also found in different publications, from U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of high schools to a PDK (Phi Delta Kappa) poll, which bills itself as the “most trusted source or public opinion about K-12” since 1969.

So, if you’re a parent trying to decide on a campus for your child, where should you look?

Anywhere and everywhere.

“There are just so many of them,” said Jo Beth Jimerson, associate professor of educational leadership at Texas Christian University and a former public school principal.

Jimerson said that making visits to your child’s prospective schools is invaluable, but understanding the data is important as well.

“What goes into the rating? Who is putting out the rating?” Jimerson said.

Realtors also keep on eye on school ratings, which can sometimes influence market values, especially in communities where schools are selling points for families. Parents are often motivated to move because they want stronger schools, said Callen Miller, president of the Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors.

“Whatever metrics that can be used to help prospective home buyers make an informed decision is always helpful,” Miller said.

‘We are not bad, we are great’

Junita Delgadillo, the mother of a first-grade student at Bess Race, likens the school to a book that shouldn’t be judged by its cover.

“Open the book, don’t just look at the cover,” she said. “Go inside and see what is going on in our school. … We are not bad, we are great.”

But she didn’t always feel that way.

Delgadillo, a mother of three, had moved out of the Hargrave Elementary School attendance zone and into the Bess Race zone when her youngest child began elementary school. Over the years, Delgadillo said, Bess Race had gone from the school everyone wanted to attend to the one people wanted “to get away from.”

“I was not looking forward to it because I had heard things and I had seen the rankings,” Delgadillo said.

She was prepared to transfer her daughter out of Bess Race. Then the principal urged her to reconsider.

 ‘Please give us a try. Please let me see what I can do,’ ” Delgadillo said, recalling the principal’s words.

She gave it a chance and has not been disappointed. She found a teaching staff that she describes as “impeccable.” She said they teach a diverse community of youngsters and engaged parents.

This year, Bess Race achieved a TEA rating of “met standard” after being rated in the “improvement required” category in 2016.

Educators at Bess Race are focused on literacy, tracking the progress of every student and finding new professional development opportunities for teachers, said Anthony Kirchner, spokesman for Crowley schools.

“No matter the rating system or accountability score that a school receives, Crowley Independent School District is committed to providing students with excellence in education so that all students achieve their full potential,” Kirchner said.

‘More robust and transparent’

While education experts acknowledge data can be manipulated to produce wide-ranging results, Children at Risk says its ratings are rock solid.

“Our analysis of the schools is much more robust and transparent than what the Texas Education Agency is releasing,” said Shay Everitt, associate director of early education for Children at Risk.

The most recent version of the Children at Risk Texas School Guide uses 2016 scores from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, Everitt said, adding that they will update in coming weeks with 2017 test results.

Children at Risk guy
Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of the statewide research and advocacy group Children at Risk, urges parents to use school data to hold campuses accountable. Joyce Marshall jlmarshall@star-telegram.com

Children at Risk’s methodology uses detailed mathematical data to arrive at letter grades such as A-plus and A-minus, providing more context than a straight letter grade. The guide gives a snapshot that includes teacher ratios, campus demographics and mastery of reading and math.

The Texas school guide is published online this year for the first time and also available in Spanish at guiadelasescuelas.org. The guide is produced in partnership with the Fort Worth-based Rainwater Charitable Foundation.

Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk, recently told an audience of Fort Worth education advocates that the online tool helps engage parents.

“The power for parents is the ability to put pressure on schools to get better, or conversely, to go to a new school,” he said.

This month, the TEA also released several measures by which families can analyze schools, including the final 2016-2017 Texas Academic Performance Reports. These reports include academic performance for campuses and school districts, student demographics and campus staffing. Also this month, the TEA released its final 2017 accountability ratings and the final Public Education Grant list. The latter is a list of struggling schools from which students can request transfers.

This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

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