Area schools fall short
by Bill Clough
Aug 11, 2012 | 2657 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BEEVILLE – Two out of four school districts in Bee County have failed to meet federal accountability standards.

The annual report card, issued Wednesday by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), cites both the Pettus and the Beeville district as failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements for 2011-2012.

The accountability program stems from the “No Child Left Behind” legislation President George Bush signed in 2002.

Specifically, Pettus ISD failed to meet mathematics standards; Beeville ISD failed to meet both mathematics and reading criteria.

Skidmore-Tynan ISD met AYP standards, as did Pawnee ISD.

Beeville and Pettus districts are in good company. More than 4,000 Texas schools received a failing AYP grade, including school districts in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.

Under the federal school guidelines, to meet AYP standards 87 percent of a school’s students must pass the state’s reading arts test; 83-percent must pass the state math test. Additionally, each school must have a 75-percent graduation rate or a 90-percent attendance rate.

Performance in writing, science and social studies is not evaluated.

The Agency reports that only 28-percent of Texas school districts qualified.

The AYP scores came as no surprise to BISD Superintendent, Dr. Sue Thomas, who is highly critical of the AYP program.

Each time BISD students come close to meeting the standards, the TEA raises them, Dr. Thomas says.

By 2014, every student must pass the reading and math tests with a perfect score.

Dr. Thomas contrasts that with a score of only 80 percent for a district to achieve a TEA “recognized” status.

“If someone tells me that every kid in 2014 is going to make a grade of 100 on all the tests nationwide, then they’re living on another world. These are kids. One of them is going to have a stomach ache on test day, and they’re judging our entire school on that?”

Crux of her criticism is twofold: the TEA compiled scores partially based on State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness STARR) tests, even though the state has yet to issue pass/fail ratings, and the way the tests are administered.

“These are high-stakes tests,” Dr. Thomas says, meaning a student gets one chance to take the test. Additionally, while TAKS tests, which STARR tests`are replacing, took all day to take, students must complete the high-stakes tests in four hours.

Many states critical of the AYP program chose to opt out; Texas did not. Dr. Thomas says more than half of the state’s school districts have signed a resolution against the one-time tests.

Concurrent with the AYP report, the Texas School Public Relations Association issued a five-page guideline that includes 20 tips for district personnel when making statements to the public and to the media.

The first item under “do” is “make all comments positive.”

“We’re not against accountability,” Dr. Thomas says, “but this coming year, for instance, we are going to be testing students for 45 days. In a 180-day school year, that only leaves 135 days of instruction. And you need a few extra days to prepare the student for the test. The teachers are frustrated.”

Another point of contention is that while a district is allowed to administer an alternate STARR test for as many special-need students as it wishes, federal rules allow only three percent to be counted as passing.

“All of your special-need students might pass, but you’re only allowed to claim three percent,” Dr. Thomas says. “The rest are what are called, and these are the federal words, ‘artificial failures.’”

The result of a poor AYP score is, Dr. Thomas says, “a lot of paperwork.”

Districts must submit a plan specifying how they will correct their failing score, and they also must send a letter to each parent telling them the district’s AYP score and what it plans to do about it.

Staff development is one aspect, Dr. Thomas says, but that district-wide, she would like to see more parental involvement.

“I’m not going to panic about it,” she says. “We have some challenges and our teachers are stepping up to meet those challenges.”

Dr. Thomas regrets the timing of the AYP report’s being issued just before the start of school.

“I’m going to work with the teachers but I’m not going to berate them,” she says.

Dr. Thomas equates the federal standards system to the high-jump competition at the summer olympics underway in London.

“Every time. Every time in Texas that we stepped up to meet the challenges, they’ve given us a new one. As soon as a lot of students start meeting those new goals, they’ve upped the goals.

While recognizing there is work to be done, Dr. Thomas says “The one thing I want the public to understand is that the schools didn’t getg any worse. The report is more than 200 pages long and when that many districts failed to meet the federal standards. what does that tell you? Something’s wrong.”

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