Four East Austin campuses rebound, meet state standards

The Austin school district’s Eastside Memorial High School met state accountability standards this year for the first time in more than a decade, according to state data released Friday, and is one of four East Austin schools that have rebounded after big changes in recent years.

Ratings from the Texas Education Agency also validated the district’s controversial experiment with single-sex education at the former Pearce and Garcia middle schools, historically underperforming campuses. The renamed schools, Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy and Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy, met standards.

“This shows our new academic programs are paying off,” Austin district Superintendent Paul Cruz said. “We are excited to know all of our AISD high schools and almost all of our schools overall met TEA’s standards this year. While we still have improvements to make, we are proud of our students and staff.”

Nearly 60 percent of the Austin district’s students are low-income, with high concentrations in East Austin schools, many of which have long posted poor test scores that bring increased state scrutiny and a merry-go-round of new principals and programs.

Eastside Memorial was threatened with closure by the state just two years ago. The school has been rebranded and renamed multiple times, and it last met accountability standards in 2002.

“Eastside has finally proven to everyone that our kids, our staff can achieve at levels that go beyond what has been expected,” Principal Bryan Miller said. “It validates what exactly I knew all along that our kids could do, with systems in place, by consistently having adults that care about kids and hold kids to high expectations. The kids were always ready. They just needed the guidance, the help and support to get there.”

The data also show the district and 111 of its schools met state standards on all components of the 2015 state accountability system. LBJ High School, which also has struggled academically and failed in previous years, also met standards this year. The district had placed an early college program at the school, which allows students to earn college credit as they work toward a high school diploma.

“Since we got the early college program, our scores started to rise. So it’s turned out great,” said Amairani Ramirez, who earned an associate’s degree along with her diploma from LBJ. “When I was in a freshman four years ago, they used to say that LBJ is not performing well. But all those comments started to become positive.”

Last year, Travis High School was tripped up by the accountability system’s college-readiness component and failed to meet standards. But Travis passed this year, receiving six of seven distinction designations based on achievement in performance indicators. The district is starting an early college program there this year.

Eight Austin schools received an “improvement required” rating, including Mendez and Martin middle schools, which had previously failed. Schools that fail to meet standards multiple times fall under state sanctions. Martin, which missed the postsecondary readiness standard by one point and has now failed for a third year, will have a required reconstitution plan and will get a new principal in the 2015-16 school year.

“We still have work to do,” said Edmund Oropez, the district’s chief officer for teaching and learning. “For Martin and Mendez … their data has moved forward, just not fast enough to outpace the accountability standards. We’re going to have to address that aggressively, just like we’ve done at Eastside, LBJ and others. Our end goal is to not having any campuses that are” rated improvement required.

Other Central Texas districts

Statewide, 94 percent of the more than 1,200 school districts and charters, and 86.4 percent of the more than 8,600 campuses that were rated met the state’s standard.

In Central Texas, all campuses in the Round Rock, Leander, Pflugerville, Hays, Georgetown, Lake Travis, San Marcos, Hutto, Eanes and Dripping Springs met standards. Nine middle and high schools in the Austin and Round Rock districts, and three charter operators, earned all seven distinctions.

“We are proud of the achievements by our students, teachers and support team,” Round Rock Superintendent Steve Flores said. “We expect even greater results this coming school year as we strive for a breakout year, building more opportunities for learning, enrichment, fine arts and athletics, as well as college and career prep.”

Three elementary schools in the Del Valle district didn’t meet standards; school officials said they will appeal the failure rating of Gilbert Elementary because there was a student coding error.

In the Manor district, three elementary campuses also didn’t meet standards.

In the Bastrop district, two elementary schools didn’t meet standards, but the number of failing schools has dropped.

“We had a little bit of a hill to climb,” said Bastrop Superintendent Steve Murray. “While we weren’t able to do it with the two, we were able to do it with three of the campuses, and we’re going to make the necessary adjustments to get it done for the other two this year.”

Austin Achieve Public Schools, a charter school in East Austin, met standards this year after receiving an improvement needed rating last year. Austin Achieve appealed its rating last year because flawed data were used in the state calculations; the state information showed 30 percent of the students at the school are low-income, but it is closer to 90 percent.

How the standards work

The state standards are based largely on the state-mandated test, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. Both districts and campuses are rated as meeting state standards or “improvement required.”

This year, the state allowed schools to meet either student achievement or student progress to pass, instead of requiring both standards to be met, as it did in 2014.

The 2015 ratings also don’t reflect student performance on the math tests in third through eighth grades because the state introduced more rigorous curriculum standards. While the exclusion helped some campuses, other schools that typically post higher math scores didn’t perform as well on the accountability standards.

Staff writer Julie Chang contributed to this report.

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