SCHOOL RATINGS: Austin campuses rebound as state raises stakes


About 95 percent of the more than 1,200 Texas school districts met standards, an improvement over last year.

Four Austin district schools failed to meet state academic standards, half as many campuses as last year.

The Eanes district is the only local district to receive the postsecondary readiness distinction.

Four Austin district schools failed to meet state academic standards, half as many failing campuses in the district as last year, under the latest accountability ratings released Tuesday.

Burnet, Martin and Mendez middle schools, as well as Govalle Elementary, received ratings of Improvement Required, according to data released by the Texas Education Agency on Tuesday.

“We’re happy that we’ve gone from eight schools to four schools, and it shows that the teachers and principals continue to work hard for our students and families,” said Edmund Oropez, chief officer of teaching and learning. “We believe in some areas we’re doing better. There are still performance gaps. There are achievement gaps that still exist.”

The state is clamping down on school districts with chronically failing schools. Under a 2015 law, the state could close a school if it fails to meet requirements for five consecutive years and could replace the school board with outside board of managers over the district.

INTERACTIVE: Texas school accountability scores, 2013-2017

Dozens of school districts across Texas face possible state sanctions in the near future, including Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Austin also could face sanctions if Mendez — which has failed to meet standards for four years in a row — fails again in the 2017-18 school year.

Austin district leaders said they are working to improve Mendez. They’ve grappled with teacher mobility and high turnover rates at that campus. The district has put in new leadership at both Burnet and Mendez. The district also hired new teachers at Mendez and beefed up support to help its educators, including bringing in reading specialists to help students achieve grade-level reading.

Other historically struggling campuses in Austin that previously were under threat of closure have been successful in their turnaround efforts and continue multiyear successes, including Reagan and Eastside Memorial high schools. Oropez pointed to strong teachers and principals that support them for the success in the turnaround.

The success didn’t last at Austin’s Martin Middle School, however. District leaders last year held up the school as an example of a successful turnaround effort, holding a press conference at the campus to celebrate the school meeting standards after three consecutive years of failing. By making the grade last year, the clock restarted for the school, and it no longer is under threat of closure.

Other Central Texas schools that missed the mark include: Elgin and Booker T. Washington elementaries and Phoenix High School in Elgin; Cooper, Mitchell and Purl elementary schools in Georgetown; Hemphill and Science Hall elementary schools in the Hays district; and Manor Middle School in Manor.

District officials in Hays have been working on improvement plans to address areas that need attention at the campuses, district spokesman Tim Savoy said: “We are adding academic coaches to the campuses, bringing in top-performing teachers and staff members from other campuses to work at these campuses, and reviewing data to specifically target the most critical areas of need at these two campuses.”

Statewide, 95 percent of the more than 1,200 Texas school districts met standards, an improvement over last year.

In Central Texas, all campuses in the Bastrop, Dripping Springs, Eanes, Lake Travis, Leander, Pflugerville, Round Rock, San Marcos and Taylor districts met standards.

Statewide, more than 400 schools received all possible distinctions. Locally, the following schools received them all:

• In Austin, LASA High School and Blackshear, Blazier, Cowan and Gullett elementaries.

• In Round Rock, Canyon Creek and Spicewood elementary schools.

• In Pflugerville, Pflugerville High School.

• In Eanes, Westlake High School.

• NYOS’ Magnolia McCullough Campus Charter School in North Austin.

The Eanes school district also was the only local district to receive the postsecondary readiness distinction.

Bob Sanborn, president of Houston-based Children at Risk, said some of the reduction in failing campuses might be because districts are more used to the exam, but also could be because of the state’s ability to take over if improvement isn’t shown.

“You’ve seen a fire built under a number of school boards and superintendents to improve these IR (Improvement Required) schools,” Sanborn said, pointing to some districts investing greater resources to boost failing campuses.

While the STAAR exam is designed to get slightly more difficult each year, the benchmarks this year remained the same. Districts and campuses are rated Meets Standards or Improvement Required.

After students posted declining reading scores on the state standardized exams, the state launched an elementary reading initiative, Texas Readers, to help improve literacy and to offer coaching and professional development to teachers.

The Austin district last year launched a similar districtwide literacy plan to get all students reading on their grade level. “The key to everything is literacy,” Oropez said.

Next year, the state’s school accountability system will get a makeover, moving to letter grades to rate districts and, later, their campuses. The Texas Education Agency in January released preliminary letter grades to give districts and the public a glimpse of how the new system will work when it is finalized.

The new A-F accountability system, which was scaled back during this year’s legislative session, begins to roll out in August 2018. Only districts will be measured next year, with grades for campuses postponed until 2019. The new system will measure how well students perform on state standardized exams, how students improve on those exams compared with similar campuses and districts, and how well they close achievement gaps among various student populations.

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