While area school district leaders appreciate the Texas Education Agency holding them accountable with ratings — which now come in the form of letter grades — they still believe there’s much more to educating the community than a standardized test can gauge.
Last year, TEA began releasing letter grades for each school district based heavily on State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests. Though local districts got only unofficial scores in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, most districts improved or maintained a steady B in the ratings released last week.
Districts are graded by scores in three categories: student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps.
Student achievement measures whether students meet grade-level expectations on the STAAR test, as well as graduation rates and how prepared students are for life after high school, according to TEA’s website.
School progress compares STAAR scores from previous years and academic performance to similar districts, the website states. Closing the gaps acknowledges performances of different demographic criteria, including ethnicities, special education, English-language learners and economically disadvantaged, according to the website.
As a district, Angleton ISD improved its scores from 81 out of 100 last year to 84 out of 100 for the 2018-19 school year, according to data collected from the state-mandated STAR test.
“Overall, looking at everything in the district, we went up a couple of points and obviously we’re pleased with that,” Superintendent Phil Edwards said.
Much of the change in scores came from the “closing the gaps” subsection for each school. Closing the gap measures how well different populations of students are performing. Southside Elementary was rated a letter grade of F in this section.
While Edwards said the school is looking into the scores and discussing ways to implement strategic improvement plans, he said the way the letter grade is calculated is a complicated process that only takes data from one test.
“The system is incredibly complex,” Edwards said.
Each school is broken into categories that look at how well students perform based on meeting goals set by the state, he said.
“Basically it means this: It looks at 4 different areas and what the state does is it sets scores you have to reach for subgroups. There are probably 10-plus subgroups,” Edwards said. “What happens in our closing the gaps section is that if you didn’t hit those percentages in some areas, you get an overall no.”
Where there are deficiencies in meeting some goals, Edwards promised the district will see an improvement as they continue to analyze the data.
“We look at those things and we point out some areas we may have deficiencies,” Edwards said. “We’re developing strategic plans — whether that’s additional resources in those areas. Do we need to give more resources, money, time, programs? We’re doing those things.”
The district was up overall with a score of 88. Last year, the district scored a 74, but officials have been working to improve with specific initiatives for four years now, Superintendent Danny Massey said.
They began focusing on early literacy, professional learning communities — data driven instructional decisions — and building quality relationships with staff and students through Capturing Kids Hearts, he said.
These initiatives are reflective in the state test scores, but also in the overall education of Brazosport ISD, Massey said.
“We believe we’re much bigger than a standardized test that’s given once a year,” he said.
The district saw individual schools’ improvement this year, with four Lake Jackson schools earning an A.
The only school with a significant drop was Stephen F. Austin Elementary, which declined from 82 to 72. That is reflective of how small the Jones Creek school is, Massey said. When there are only 300 students and 35 students in fifth grade, it’s easy for scores to broadly fluctuate, he said.
Columbia-Brazoria ISD, with about 3,000 students, is evidence each student can weigh heavily in TEA’s calculations.
While the district appreciates the state’s accountability ratings, sometimes calculations aren’t perfectly reflective of what is happening in a district, Superintendent Steven Galloway said.
“It’s number games,” he said. “It’s pretty darn hard.”
C-BISD improved nine points to earn an 80 this year, but the district’s ranking in “closing the gaps” likely held them back from a higher overall score.
The district got zero points for grade-level performance, according to the agency’s online data, but that’s not to say zero students performed at grade level. The score is reflective of the district not meeting a specific goal.
The data shows 65 percent of students met the goal for English language arts/reading. The goal was 66 percent. The district gets a “target not met” — and therefore zero points — for that category.
This similar scenario happened 10 times within the grade-level performance category, leading to zero points for 50 percent of the closing the gaps score.
The district earned 100 percent scores for college, career and military readiness, as well as graduation rates, which total another 40 percent of the score. English language proficiency also earned a score of zero for 34 percent out of a required 36 percent meeting the goal, for the final 10 percent of the closing the gap score.
After the calculation, the district got 73 percent for closing the gaps.
Closing gaps looks at certain demographic groups, such as ethnicities and economically disadvantaged, but the district tries to build the focus on individual improvement in every student, even in physical education, Galloway said.
There are decisions the district makes to benefit the community, but might not earn them the highest state score, Galloway said. An example is the dual-credit partnerships local districts have with Brazosport College.
C-BISD made an individual decision that dual-credit is its strength based on community wants and needs, he said. This moved away from some Advanced Placement program and testing, even though that could benefit them in TEA’s calculations.
“The calculation doesn’t earn any points in that area and we understand that,” Galloway said. “Locally, this is best for our kids.”
The district performed better in the older grade levels, which is OK, Galloway said.
“We want our young kids to do well,” he said. “But we understand that when they leave us, that’s what’s important.”
There is time to catch them up and make sure they’re properly prepared upon graduation, he said.
The district was pretty aware of what was going to happen with these scores, including a 55, or F, for Barrow Elementary, he said.
This school year will begin with realigned grade levels, splitting them between Wild Peach Elementary and Barrow and putting all the district’s pre-kindergarten at Wild Peach. This gives students and teachers more resources, since there are more of them together, Galloway said.
Wild Peach has spent the summer transforming the culture and preparing the teachers to focus on early childhood education, Principal Mary McCarthy said.
They hope to build a strong foundation that will last through the 13-year journey in C-BISD, she said.
Even before the realignment, Wild Peach increased its score by six points to a 68 and earned state distinctions in science, mathematics and academic growth.
“That’s huge for us because our focus was on improvement,” McCarthy said, attributing the hard work to the teachers.
Sweeny ISD also focuses on individual student needs, which is reflective in its overall score of 85 points, Superintendent Tory Hill said.
Proud of having maintained a B rating, Hill said the district saw tremendous growth in areas such as science, social studies and writing as well as an increase in master’s performance across the district.
The district scored highest in school progress with an 89, indicating how students have been performing over time, and received an 87 in student achievement.
With an overall score of 77 in closing the gaps and each school consistently scoring the lowest in this area, Hill said the district plans to continue focusing on improving educational equity between student groups by working with teachers.
The district is introducing instructional coaches to teachers across the district and this is the first year they will be present in every single grade level, Hill said.
“We are working with teachers as close as possible to where the learning happens,” Hill said. “We’re on the sidelines, working with specific teachers to help them grow in real time.”
As the district continues to become more diverse, it’s important for teachers to continue building on how to meet the needs of students from various backgrounds, Hill said.
Regarding the scores of individual schools, Sweeny Elementary received an overall score of 66 points, Sweeny Junior High received a 77, and Sweeny High School received an 86 as well as a distinction in post-secondary readiness.
“We have traditionally had a very strong high school team, and students do very well there,” Hill said.
There is a 20-point discrepancy between the high school and elementary school. One of the challenges the district continues to face at the elementary school is building literacy skills, Hill said.