Low graduation rate hurts HISD rating
Another look at the Houston miracle. Remember, when Robert Kimball blew the whistle on the dropout cover-up, he was demoted. And the superintendent was promoted all the way to the office of U. S. Secretary of Education. When Kimball was blowing the whistle, Houston claimed zero dropouts.
By Jennifer Radcliffe & Ericka Mellon
More Texas and Houston-area schools are falling short of federal standards, officials announced Wednesday, giving students the right to escape their low-performing schools and get free tutoring.
Students at 284 failing campuses across Texas, including 23 in the Houston Independent School District, may now transfer to other campuses for the upcoming academic year, according to preliminary federal ratings released by the Texas Education Agency.
Statewide, 737 schools, including 155 in the Houston area, failed to meet the minimal requirements set out by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a 36 percent increase from last year.
Low-income students at 170 Texas schools will also be entitled to free tutoring ΓΆ€” extra help that campuses must offer if they fail to meet the same federal benchmark for three consecutive years.
Education advocates on Wednesday urged families to take advantage of their options. Historically, though, very few parents do so. Last year, less than 1 percent of eligible Texas students transferred schools.
In HISD, 19,000 students were eligible for transfers or free tutoring last school year. But only 122 transferred and 1,185 accepted tutoring.
"It's clearly to the students' benefits to get (the tutoring) and, many times, it's an opportunity for the light bulb to go on," said Arva Howard, president of Houston's Parents for Public Schools. "We don't have the option of allowing students to be marginal."
An early report card
Unlike previous years, when school districts waited until well into the school year to notify parents they had the right to send their children to higher-performing schools, parents this year are getting the information more than a week before school starts.
To comply with the federal law, schools are measured on as many as 29 standards, including graduation rates, attendance rates and test scores of poor, minority and disabled students.
Schools that accept federal money are subject to sanctions if they fail to meet the same standard for two consecutive years. Repeat offenders are asked to allow transfers and provide tutoring, and can even be closed.
To clear the academic hurdle, 60 percent of students in all subgroups were required to pass the reading portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and 50 percent were required to pass math. By 2014, the law says all students must be proficient.
Higher passing requirements meant that slightly fewer schools made adequate progress this year. Statewide, 12 percent of districts and 9 percent of campuses missed the mark.
Seven districts in the Houston area failed to meet the federal standards this year. HISD and North Forest were both on the list for the second consecutive year.
Crosby, Dickinson, Hardin, Kendleton and La Marque also did not meet the requirements.
Reading scores tripped up HISD last year. This year it was a graduation rate of 67 percent, just below the 70 percent mandated by the state.
"We're never satisfied with graduation rates until we get to 100 percent," Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra said. "We continue our efforts to make sure our students are successful and remain in school."
Nearly 85 percent of HISD met AYP. Forty-three campuses ΓΆ€” including 22 high schools ΓΆ€” did not.
Eleven schools ΓΆ€” including Chavez, Jones, Sharpstown, Sam Houston, Westbury, Wheatley and Worthing high schools ΓΆ€” have missed the standard for four consecutive years. They must now take a corrective action that can range from replacing school staff to extending the school year or day.
News of HISD's struggles to meet federal standards comes just weeks after the school district celebrated a record number of campuses receiving high marks under the state's rating system.
"There needs to be a better alignment between the federal accountability system and the state accountability system," Saavedra said. "It's simply not fair ... It's confusing for parents. It's confusing for educators."
Although the state and federal ratings are based largely on students' scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, the two systems have different standards for judging performance.
Still, HISD vowed to be aggressive about publicizing parents' options. By law, letters must be sent home before the Aug. 27 start of school informing parents of their choices.
"We've made a lot of progress on that, and I think we'll continue to do better," spokesman Terry Abbott said. "We want to urge every parent to take advantage of the option for supplemental service. It's there and paid for."
Parents interested in transferring or tutoring should talk to a campus administrator before Sept. 27, he said.
Transferring may not even be an option in North Forest, the only Houston-area district to fail on the same measure for two consecutive years, which triggers system-wide sanctions.
In addition, every middle and high school in the district failed to make adequate progress, meaning North Forest would have to partner with a neighbor to accept its transfer students. That type of partnership is not required by the law, TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said, and North Forest has no such agreement in place.
If no neighboring districts agree to accept middle and high school students who might want to leave, North Forest plans to offer those students computer-assisted instruction and additional tutoring.
North Forest's Smiley High School is among only 23 campuses statewide to miss the mark for five consecutive years, meaning the schools have to plan major restructuring for the 2008-2009 school year.
Houston Can Academy and Alphonso Crutch Life Support, both area charter school, also face severe sanctions.
Parents need to examine the data before they make decisions, officials said. Shortcomings that surface in these ratings ΓΆ€” such as low marks only in regards to the performance of English-language learners ΓΆ€” may not be relevant to their children, Ratcliffe said.
"You really need to look at the data and think about what makes the best sense for your family," she said.
New names on the list
Some suburban campuses debuted on the dreaded list for the first time this year. They won't face sanctions unless they're tripped up by the same measure again next year.
The Cypress-Fairbanks school district didn't have any schools miss AYP last year. This year, math struggles landed six campuses on the list.
"Our expectation is that all schools will make AYP," Cy-Fair assistant superintendent Kelli Durham said.
Math also caused problems for Fort Bend ISD, which saw 10 of its 53 campuses miss AYP this year.
District officials noted that all of those schools earned "academically acceptable" ratings from the state earlier this month.
"We have much work to do, but we're confident that our students, teachers and administrators will rise to the challenge," John Frossard, Fort Bend's chief academic officer, said in a statement.
Alief has three campuses on the hit list. Hastings and Elsik high schools have missed the mark for five straight years, while Taylor High has been in trouble for four.
Alief, however, avoids the sanctions by turning down the federal money for low-income children.
Spokeswoman Paula Smith said district officials pay more attention to the state ratings, which use different standards. Schools have until Sept. 7 to appeal the federal ratings
Jennifer Radcliffe & Ericka Mellon
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