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OOPS! Texas Authorities Change Their (Collective) Mind

The Texas Education Agency has reversed its assessment of six Texas schools as "persistently dangerous," saying Friday the campuses are actually safe.

The reversal represents a bumpy start for the state's first attempt at implementing one of the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which was intended to identify unsafe schools and provide school choice to children trapped in them.

Instead, the TEA's August release of a list of purportedly unsafe campuses resulted in frightened parents transferring several dozen children out of neighborhood schools to avoid a hazard that did not exist. The schools on the list were in the Crystal City Independent School District, the San Marcos Consolidated ISD and the El Paso ISD.

TEA officials blamed the mistaken designation on the districts, saying the campuses were judged on flawed data the schools turned in. Officials representing the three affected school districts blame the TEA for a data collection system that was confusing, overly broad and frequently changed.

Administrators in the schools said minor incidents such as rock throwing that the schools reported had been lumped into the same category with gun and knife violations.

"The good news is these schools are safer than first reported," said TEA chief deputy commissioner Robert Scott. "The bad news is each of these schools sent the state badly flawed data.

"We know that these districts have already begun to take steps to train staff to correctly identify disciplinary offenses," Scott said.

Under the federal law, each state was allowed to determine its own criteria for judging schools, based on guidelines suggested by the federal government. No schools in Houston, Dallas or San Antonio were deemed "persistently dangerous."

Most states set up a grading system based on how many felony offenses a school reported over a period of two or three years.

For example, the TEA analysis of discipline reports, entered into a database by computer code, found 279 applicable incidents over the past three years in four El Paso middle schools. But El Paso ISD officials said their records showed that none of those incidents was a felony and most were minor.

Thirty children requested transfers out of Miller Junior High School in San Marcos, and 24 requested transfers from the four affected middle schools in El Paso after the list came out. There were no requests for transfers from Crystal City High School, the only high school in the town of Crystal City.

The TEA ruled Friday that the districts must still honor all student transfers applied for during the current academic year. The schools also are being instructed to seek technical assistance from the School Safety Center in San Marcos for guidance in safety and security audit procedures.

TEA administrator Scott said he expects all school districts will review their data collection process.

"Increasingly, the reputation of a district or a campus is based on data," Scott said. "Superintendents should sign the affidavit attesting to the correctness of data submitted to the state only after the accuracy of the information has been carefully checked and double-checked."

— Kim Cobb
Citing flawed data, TEA takes schools off 'dangerous' list
Houston Chronicle


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