State Gives Most Area School Districts Higher Scores, But 40 Campuses Fail Standards

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

(center)Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath arrives at San Antonio ISD's Schenck Elementary School, which received an A from the State's accountability system as (left) Superintendent Pedro Martinez walks alongside.

San Antonio Independent School District received a B letter grade under the State’s grading system for school districts, up from last year’s C.

Results released Thursday morning show several other school districts in the area saw similar improvements. No local districts declined in performance. This mirrors a statewide trend, where the percentage of districts receiving C, D, or F grades decreased across Texas year-over-year.

Across the state, 25 percent of districts were awarded an A, 57 percent a B, 13 percent a C, 4 percent a D, and 1 percent an F. Ninety-three percent of Texas districts improved or maintained their letter grades from the prior year.

South San Antonio and Edgewood ISDs, San Antonio’s lowest-ranked districts last year, both achieved a C rating.

Judson, Harlandale, Southwest, and Somerset ISDs also moved up a letter grade from last year’s C to this year’s B. North East and Northside ISDs got Bs for the second consecutive year, and Alamo Heights ISD went from a B to an A. To view grades from districts and schools, click here.

Of San Antonio’s 400-plus campuses in traditional public school districts, 40 failed state standards, receiving an F letter grade from the Texas Education Agency. Sixteen are located in San Antonio ISD, 10 are in Edgewood ISD, and six are in Southside ISD.

Statewide, 363 of the more than 8,000 campuses in traditional public school districts and 39 charter campuses out of 747 failed state standards.

SAISD’s Ogden Elementary on San Antonio’s near West Side failed State standards for the sixth year in a row, making it the only area school at risk of closure if it doesn’t improve by next year.

San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez told the Rivard Report that his staff will work intensively next year with Ogden leaders and Relay Lab Schools, the partner that operates Ogden for SAISD.

“What drives my decision-making is I try to minimize the risk of these schools closing because that is part of our values. We don’t want to close schools,” Martinez said. “We will have very strong monitoring procedures, including reports on how the children are doing, reflection on some of the challenges they had, [and deep dives] into each of the grade levels where they struggle.”

Ogden wasn’t the only SAISD school that failed State standards for consecutive years. Longfellow Middle School failed for the third straight year.

Lowell Middle School, Beacon Hill Academy, Douglass Academy, and Herff Academy failed State standards for the second year in a row.

Seven SAISD schools received F grades Thursday after being awarded higher grades last year. Martinez said some of those schools were guilty of “resting on their laurels.” The superintendent suggested leadership changes as a solution in some instances.

Calling the F grades a “wake-up call,” Martinez emphasized the need for schools to ensure students are not just proficient in subject matter areas, but that they are meeting and mastering state standards.

The accountability system awards campuses and districts a letter grade, much like a student’s report card. Scores are based largely on the results of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exam, a standardized test that Texas students take starting in third grade.

Elementary and middle school campuses’ grades are based entirely on STAAR results. The Texas Education Agency also factors college, career, and military readiness and graduation rates into letter grades for districts and high schools.

Letter grades correspond to a typical grading scale, with campuses or districts receiving an A for scores 90 and above, B for 80-89, and so on. Districts and schools with scores at 59 or below have failed State standards.

If a school fails State standards for five consecutive years, it may be subject to closure.

Rodriguez Elementary in SAISD was the first school in San Antonio to receive such a sanction. It closed at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

The State’s numeric scores come from evaluations across three main categories.

Seventy percent of the score comes from a State assessment of how students are achieving or progressing year-over-year. The TEA uses the better of the two categories, either achieving or progressing, to figure the score.

Achievement is an important factor to assess, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath said.

When a person applies for a job, an employer wants to know what skills the candidate can perform. The employer won’t care as much about what adversity the candidate overcame, but growth – progression – is still important to reward, he added.

“If you have a situation where everybody that walked into your fourth-grade classroom started at a kindergarten level and by the end of that year they all performed at a second-grade level, well, it is still a fourth-grade classroom so achievement is going to be low,” Morath said. “But from a growth perspective, that was three years worth of growth in one year, so we should give those teachers a ticker-tape parade down Main Street, because that’s incredible.”

The remaining 30 percent of the numeric score comes from a category called “closing the gaps,” which assesses how individual student groups performed. This allows the state to shine a light on certain groups – English language learners, for example – that may be underperforming or excelling, Morath said.

The commissioner’s ultimate goal for the State accountability system is to provide data that schools and districts can use to reward high-performing schools or develop plans for struggling campuses.

Since the A-F system was first unveiled, some school leaders have been critical of the concept, saying it reduces the multifaceted work campuses and districts do to a letter.

“What folks don’t know is that there are four different indicators that go into that, a lot of algorithms that go into why a letter grade is what it is and it is difficult for us as educators to understand it and then explain it in meaningful terms,” South San ISD Superintendent Alexandro Flores said earlier this week.

In a phone interview Thursday afternoon after scores were made official, Flores called the news that all five previously F-rated campuses had improved scores “rewarding.”

Last year, South San ISD was one of two local districts graded a D, and five campuses, including all of its middle schools, failed State standards.

All five improved their grades this year, but Frank Madla Elementary declined and is now rated an F.

Edgewood ISD was the lowest-ranked school district in San Antonio after last year’s scores were released. The West Side district, which enrolls a little more than 10,000 students, increased its State score to a C, but 10 of Edgewood’s 20 campuses were ranked an F this year.

Edgewood Superintendent Eduardo Hernandez said the district was pleased with its overall score, but recognized challenges at the elementary and middle school schools. He said many of the struggling campuses had first-year principals.

“We own our accountability outcomes and we are working at improving them, while also focusing on the social emotional health of our students and employees,” Hernandez said.

Nearby Southwest ISD improved its letter grade to a B, although Superintendent Lloyd Verstuyft renewed his criticism of the grading system at a Rivard Report education forum Tuesday night.

“I just want to say that I know in our State education system we do need accountability,” he said. “I just don’t agree, and I know I’m not alone, that you can reduce everything that a campus does for students based on high stakes testing, a one-day test.”

Alamo Heights and Comal ISDs improved from a B score to an A this year while Northside and North East ISDs remained Bs, but got better numeric scores.

Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods told the Rivard Report that the accountability scores are just one part of a “much bigger measuring stick” that the district uses to evaluate schools. Woods has previously been critical of TEA’s A-F grading system.

San Antonio’s largest school district is also developing a local accountability system that Woods hopes will be more nuanced than the statewide accountability system.

Reached Thursday afternoon, North East ISD interim Superintendent Sean Maika said he hadn’t had an opportunity to thoroughly review the specific accountability scores.

The two NEISD campuses that failed state standards last year improved their scores to a B and a C, respectively.

Maika pointed to these results as proof that his district has the ability to use targeted improvement plans to get better outcomes.

Harlandale ISD improved from a C to a B district, and reduced its number of improvement required campuses to zero.

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