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Low Achievement Scores Shock 2 Houston Schools

For Houston's T.H. Rogers Elementary and Katy's Pattison Elementary, the day Texas releases annual campus ratings has always been a time for celebrating.

The word "exemplary" has appeared next to Pattison every year since 1995. T.H. Rogers has been "exemplary" every year since 1997, when the school briefly dipped into "recognized" territory.

Then came last Friday.

T.H. Rogers Principal Nancy Manley said she still is trying to reconcile a less-than-stellar "acceptable" rating with last week's news that the campus is one of just 15 Texas schools to receive a national No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon award for academic excellence.

Some parents in the wealthy neighborhoods surrounding Pattison assumed there must have been a misprint when they opened the newspaper and saw their school received the state's lowest rating: "academically unacceptable."

"It just doesn't compute," said Pattison Principal Debra Barker.

Both schools, considered two of the area's best by most any measure, ran afoul of Texas' new rating system that now takes into account the academic performance of special education students. That's where each came up short.

Now, administrators are trying to assure parents that their schools are still among the academically elite. Both schools are considering appealing their ratings to the Texas Education Agency, but officials there say ratings are rarely changed.

"Our program is in very high demand," Manley said. "Many of our students have gone on to Harvard."

Katy Superintendent Leonard Merrell went to Austin on Monday to talk with state Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley about Pattison's rating.

Parents at both schools seem to accept their principals' explanations that the lower ratings resulted from technical problems with the new ratings system.

"People, I think, initially are kind of shocked," said Donna Cade, president of Pattison's parent-teacher organization. "But I think I know my kids are getting the best education in Katy."

In addition to worrying parents, bad ratings can hurt home values, said real estate broker Jaclyn Nall, who has a $285,000 home listed in the Nottingham Country neighborhood that feeds into Pattison.

"People will move in and out specifically for that reason," Nall said. "The clients might not get what they want for the property."

TEA rarely adjusts ratings to correct school's errors
Under the old rating system, T.H. Rogers and Pattison would still have earned "exemplary" status because more than 90 percent of their students passed every portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills last school year.

Only 14 of Pattison's 38 special education students met their goal. T.H. Rogers' rating dropped because only 36 of its 56 special education students met their testing goals.

The campus is home to a regional school for deaf students and an elite Vanguard program for gifted children.

Manley said she hopes the TEA will bump T.H. Rogers' rating to "recognized" because school employees incorrectly marked eight severely disabled students as being tested, even though they weren't. Throw those scores out, and the school's passing rate jumps above 80 percent.

But the TEA rarely adjusts ratings when the school makes data mistakes, said agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson. Schools had their chance to challenge the data earlier this year when the TEA notified them of their scores, she said.

"If they messed up on reporting their data, that is not something they will grant an appeal for," Culbertson said.

Standards differ among special education students
Unlike other students who take the TAKS, special education students are judged on how they do on the State-Developed Alternative Assessment.

Committees made up of each student's parents, teachers and school administrators decide early in the year how each student should score. So a passing score for one special education student might be a failing score for another.

"You're asking in special education for us to make predictions that we don't have to make for TAKS," said Barker, Pattison's principal.

In retrospect, expectations may have been set too high for some of Pattison's students, said Kris Taylor, spokeswoman for the Katy school district.

"You have to assign optimistic goals for children," she said, "but not unrealistically high goals."

— Jason Spencer
Houston Chronicle
2004-10-07
http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/2835009


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