Lowest score determines ranking for entire district
By Robin Scott
Results from the Texas Education Agency 2009 District Accountability were released on July 31st and are available to the community online or by visiting the school administration building.
Dalhart Elementary School ranked Exemplary, the highest possible rating. Dalhart Intermediate School ranked the second highest rating with Recognized. Dalhart Junior High School received the lowest ranking with Academically Unacceptable. Dalhart High School and the XIT School both ranked Academically Acceptable, the third possible rating.
On Tuesday afternoon, DISD Superintendent David Foote and Junior High School Principal John Machel spoke on the meaning behind the rankings. Foote noted, “I’d like for people to understand that the state looks at a subpopulation [category of students] that affects the overall standard. That means that they take the lowest score received and apply that score to the school’s entire performance. The state is not treating our kids and our schools fairly by using one score that becomes the grade for the entire school and affects the district.” The scores received by all students are not averaged to determine the ranking. If one student subpopulation fails, the entire school is ranked unacceptable.
Machel noted that the subpopulation that caused the academically unacceptable rating for the Junior High School consisted of 34 children who were tested, with only 10 of them meeting at least the minimum standard. He stated, “The test that brought down the entire rating was in science. The minimum standard is achieved when 50 percent of the kids taking the test pass. Only 29 percent of the subpopulation passed.” He and Foote also noted that in other subpopulations of students taking the science TAKS, passing percentages were 100 percent, and 73 percent, and 42 percent, which if averaged would have given a passing percentage of 59 percent, which is academically acceptable. The subpopulations include “African American,” “Hispanic,” “White,” and “Economically Disadvantaged.”
Foote stated that the way the rankings affect the district this coming year is a requirement that the district hire a consultant to come in and assess areas where improvement may be made and possible solutions for how to achieve a better ranking. The district will hire a consultant for the upcoming school year. Other changes that the district has made that both Foote and Machel believe will improve the overall success of students (but will not necessarily affect the rankings because of the method of using the lowest score) is the change to an eight period school day for both Junior High and High School, the change to the flex calendar district wide that will provide extra school days at the end of the year for students who do not pass a TAKS test or have not met attendance requirements or failed a class and three benchmarks to get ready for the TAKS tests. School districts in Texas are prohibited from spending more than 10 percent of the total school days in getting ready for the TAKS tests.
What Machel wants parents and students to remember is, “So many of our students were recognized this past year, winning awards in UIL and band and sports. The state is labeling our schools by one measure and we are unacceptable in that category, but we do too many things to say that we are unacceptable. It is an unfair standard.”
The rankings system is somewhat complicated to understand. Foote noted, “The way to understand it is this: if a student finished the school year with three A’s, two B’s, one C and an F, that student should be thought of as a B student based upon his average, but the ratings would state that the student has failed completely.” Foote is concerned about labeling a student in that manner.
Both Foote and Machel state that the rankings fail to accurately reflect how well the students are doing district wide, and that is because of the use of subpopulations, the school could appear to discriminate, a word they do not take lightly. Foote reiterated, “Each school is ranked according to its lowest score.” That means that an average is not taken then the ranking applied. He noted, “If you look at a particular subpopulation you could see that students in that group may not do well, regardless of the teaching method. It could be apathy, or it could be that a student is struggling for a number of reasons and is just going to have difficulty no matter what due to their own circumstances.”
When determining if a student needs tutoring or assistance in a subject Foote stated, “We look at the test data on each child, we look at the areas that each child may have trouble in, and we try to build the strength in those areas for each child.”
Machel and Foote both noted that math and science are the district’s weakest areas. They continually look for ways to improve the math skills for all students. Foote stated, “This year we have a new math teacher at the high school, we have smaller groups at every campus. We have teachers that come early and stay late to help students. We try to have mandatory tutorials, but that can be difficult to enforce. We have the flex schedule this year and the eight period day. We are hopeful that these changes will assist the students who really need it.”
Machel also added that in the last two years the Junior High School campus has added 48 new computers that weren’t available before. He has seen improvement in many areas on his campus, including student morale. He does not want students to be labeled as failures. He stated, “The majority of our students are really working hard and doing well, and even the ones who are struggling should not be labeled.”
To view the 2009 Campus Accountability visit www.tea.state.tx.us or contact the district office.