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Most Houston High Schools Don't Meet Federal Guidelines

AUSTIN -- Most high schools in the Houston Independent School District failed to meet new federal progress goals this year, while the vast majority of elementary and middle schools did, the Texas Education Agency announced Wednesday.

As a whole, the district did meet expectations under the Adequate Yearly Progress system, which is designed to identify schools that need improvement and force them to take action. The system labels schools and districts as either meeting progress goals or needing improvement.

Overall, 37 HISD campuses did not make the necessary gains, while 242 schools met or surpassed performance standards.

The Houston district, with 80 percent of schools meeting the goals, beat the state average of 73.8 percent. Twenty-one new schools were not included in the ratings and four smaller schools have pending status.

All other school districts in Harris County met the federal goals as well. But in surrounding counties, the Anahuac, Texas City, Liberty, Dickinson, Hardin and Montgomery school districts were labeled as "needs improvement."

This is the first year Texas schools are being labeled under the federal system, which differs from the state system that ranks schools and districts as either exemplary, recognized, acceptable or low-performing.

Schools serving primarily low-income students that land on the "needs improvement" list for two years in a row for the same criteria are required to notify parents and offer those students a transfer to another school.

TEA officials stressed that the "needs improvement" given to schools and districts status does not mean that they are failing. But they must prepare a school improvement plan that provides a blueprint on how they will improve.

"The (federal) legislation envisions that a fairly significant number of schools and districts within a state might well be identified as not meeting adequate yearly progress and in need of improvement," said Criss Cloudt, TEA's associate commissioner for accountability.

"We will likely identify many more schools in the state this year as not meeting adequate yearly progress than we have ever identified as low-performing in the state accountability system."

Texas education officials knew that high schools were in trouble earlier this year when nearly half of them failed at least one of the mandated Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests, which include language arts, math, social studies and science.

But it still surprised many that acclaimed schools, such as Bellaire High School, recently listed as one of the top 100 schools in the nation, failed to meet federal standards.

"These schools were also accountable for their subgroups improving. So perhaps the Hispanic subgroup at Bellaire may not have made enough improvement in mathematics," said Houston Superintendent Kaye Stripling.

Out of 18 high schools in HISD, only two -- Austin and Reagan -- met the standards.

"I am proud of our schools which exceeded the AYP benchmarks. This system allows us to better identify those schools, those students, who need extra help," Stripling said.

The TEA is currently investigating HISD schools for providing incorrect dropout data and recently lowered the ratings of 15 schools, including Austin and Sharpstown, to low-performing.

The federal evaluation system looked at TAKS scores as well as graduation rates for high schools and districts, and attendance rates for elementary and middle schools.

While the TEA provided the test scores for federal officials, individual campuses provided the other information, Stripling confirmed.

Most of the Houston high schools that failed to meet standards needed improvement in their TAKS math scores and graduation rates.

HISD has concentrated on improving its high schools for the past two years and more emphasis on math, including tutoring, will most likely be added, Stripling said.

In Texas this year, the AYP for reading was met if at least 46.8 percent of the total students and in each student group passed the reading/language arts TAKS in grades 3-8 and 10. The math performance target was met if at least 33.4 percent of students in those same grades passed the TAKS.

For high schools and districts, the goals required a 2002 graduation rate of at least 70 percent or improvement over the 2001 rate. For elementary and middle schools, the attendance rate had to have been, on average, 90 percent or higher for the 2001-2002 school year or have shown improvement over the previous year.

"This new federal evaluation is a strong attempt to ensure that all children get a good education," said Robert Scott, interim head of TEA. "This system, along with many state reform efforts, will help push our students to new achievement levels."

But one educator group criticized the federal effort.

"The professional educators of Texas welcome these kinds of evaluations and have historically shown success when accountability standards are raised," said Don Cotten, state president of the Association of Texas Professional Educators. "However, we are concerned about the validity of these accountability standards when the majority of funding for public schools in Texas does not come from the federal government."

The ratings also caused confusion among some local school officials. Patty Shafer, superintendent of Liberty ISD, said the district is investigating its "needs improvement" status. Montgomery ISD Superintendent Jane Reed also took issue with federal officials' findings.

"We suspect we're dealing here with flawed data. It just doesn't ring true. We're going to confer with TEA," said Reed.

Districts will be given an opportunity to appeal before final ratings are released later this year.

— Janet Elliott & Jo Ann Zuniga
HISD success on federal goals mixed
Houston Chronicle


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