Four Austin middle schools failed to meet standards after students struggled with writing and social studies tests, according to accountability ratings released Monday.
The schools that did not meet state standards include the Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy, one of two historically underperforming middle schools that the district last year transformed into single-sex campuses.
Mendez Middle School also came up short for the third consecutive year and will undergo required restructuring. An administrator from the district’s central office has been tapped to lead the school in the upcoming year as part of the turnaround effort.
That tactic appears to have paid off at Martin Middle School, which failed to meet state standards for three years and was headed for closure but made the grade in 2016. Martin’s turnaround is another win in a district that has spent considerable time and resources to lift campuses that feed into the once-troubled Eastside Memorial High School. Eastside got passing scores for the second year in a row. Last year was the first time in more than a decade that the school met accountability standards.
All other comprehensive high schools in the Austin district also met state standards in 2016, for the second year in a row. A total of eight schools did not make standards: four middle schools, two elementaries and two alternative high schools.
“We all know that we still have work to do,” Superintendent Paul Cruz said. “We had some schools that did not meet state standards. We want to make sure to assure you, to assure our students and our parents, that we work every single day to make sure all of our kids achieve academically, that all of our kids excel. Sometimes we do it great, and we continue to be great. In some areas we need to work, and I realize that.”
Administrators have launched a districtwide literacy plan, which they believe will improve not only reading scores, but also writing.
Edmund Oropez, the Austin district’s chief officer for teaching and learning, said Mendez made “big progress, but it wasn’t enough to get them out” from under the state’s Improvement Required label.
The Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy met standards in its first state accountability ratings last year but failed this year. District officials committed to study the controversial experiment with single-sex education for five years. The all-girls school, the Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy, met standards for its second year. Despite Garcia’s miss, Oropez said the district is pleased that the climate and culture of both schools have changed dramatically since the switch.
Statewide, nearly 94 percent of the more than 1,200 school districts in Texas met standards.
In Central Texas, all campuses in Bastrop, Del Valle, Dripping Springs, Eanes, Elgin, Georgetown, Hutto, Lake Travis, Leander, Pflugerville, Round Rock and San Marcos met standards. It is the first time in recent years that all of the campuses met standards in Del Valle, where 88 percent of the students are from low-income families and 93 percent are Hispanic or black.
Del Valle Superintendent Kelly Crook credited the success to teachers, staffers, administrators and board focusing “on meeting the needs of every child and pushing them to excel beyond initial expectations.”
Campuses rated Improvement Required are Hemphill Elementary in the Hays district and Manor Excel Academy in the Manor district.
The state ratings come after a long list of glitches and miscues with Educational Testing Services, the New Jersey-based vendor that administered the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams for the first time this year.
School districts across the state compiled lists of issues with how ETS, which is facing a state fine for mistakes during administrations of the exams, handled the test. Districts have also questioned the reliability of this year’s standardized tests and asked state officials to exclude some scores from their ratings.
Education Commissioner Mike Morath dropped the requirement that fifth- and eighth-grade students have to pass the STAAR to be promoted to the next grade, leaving the decision to districts, but the state still counted most scores in its ratings.
While the Austin district’s projections of how well its campuses performed are similar to the state results, “our confidence level is not high regarding the data because of all the issues,” Oropez said.
The new ratings released Monday also come as a state commission is recommending lawmakers overhaul how Texas tests its students. Among the proposed changes, the commission recommends reducing the materials that students are tested on and moving the assessments toward a series of computer-based tests students could take throughout the year. The recommendations include reducing the number of state tests, a requirement of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a revamped federal law.
However, the STAAR, which is the basis for the accountability ratings, will probably stay in place until the state funds the proposed testing systems and equips all districts with broadband internet access.
Critics have said the state standardized tests don’t give timely or useful information on student performance. In July, 27,000 people responded to an online survey about the STAAR — and how the state uses the test results to hold students and districts accountable. The survey found the majority no longer wants a state-administered standardized test for students and instead prefers moving to a national test such as the SAT, ACT or Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which is used by several other states.
Central Texas 2016 state accountability ratings
Overall district met standard
Campuses rated Improved Required:
International High School
Graduation Prep Academy at Lanier
Burnet Middle School
Dobie Middle School
Mendez Middle School
Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy
Overall district met standard
Hemphill Elementary rated Improvement Required
Overall district met standard
Manor Excel Academy rated Improvement Required
These districts and all their campuses met standard: