District earns ‘recognized’ rating after 2008 TAKS tests
By Kathi Bliss
As they return to class this month, Lockhart Independent School District students have an accomplishment to celebrate and a new reputation to protect.
According to reports released by the Texas Education Agency on Friday, the students of LISD have increased their standing in the education community, earning a “Recognized” rating under the state’s standardized testing accountability system.
“For the first time in the history of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test, the district is recognized, and we have two exemplary campuses and a high school that’s recognized,” Superintendent Jose Parra said on Tuesday. “That’s a great accomplishment and it’s a great testament to the community, to the kids, and to the staff in the classrooms.”
To achieve a “Recognized” rating, a district must score in the 90th percentile in all testing areas, as well as maintaining a low completion rate. This year, LISD students improved in nearly every testing category, proving as Assistant Superintendent Janie Wright said, “the kids and the teachers are getting it done in the classroom.”
A change in this year’s testing standards allows for a “gate-up,” a formula which calculates student performance based upon the child’s testing performance that day, as well as the campus’ historical testing performance. Gate-ups are meant to offset the possibility that a child is sick or otherwise having an off day during testing, and to set accountability standards up to reward performance rather than to be punitive.
“I’ve looked at the data from around the region, and although there are districts that performed better than we did, those district’s either don’t have the challenges that we have, or used more gate-ups than we did to achieve their ratings,” Parra said.
In fact, within the region, LISD boasts the third-highest rate of economically disadvantaged students and gated up in only one area.
“This isn’t a growth model, and if I were given my choice, I’d look at a growth model,” he said. “Even if they didn’t achieve the levels the state wanted, if the students improved over last year, they should be rewarded for that improvement, we should be able to see that growth.”
That growth is evident in the campus-by-campus ratings, Wright suggested, as testing results improved almost across the board. In those areas where scores decreased, the figures can often be attributed to changing student populations – in some areas where testing results are broken down by ethnicity and grade level, one or two students can mean the difference between an “Academically Acceptable” or a “Recognized” rating.
The district has several feathers in its collective cap as a result of the last round of testing, Parra and Wright said. Among those, both the ML Cisneros Freshman Campus and Bluebonnet Elementary were rated “Exemplary,” with students meeting or exceeding better than 95 percent of their testing expectations.
The remaining campuses were all rated “Recognized,” except for Pride High, which earned an “Academically Acceptable” rating.
“That’s the highest rating they can get, so as far as I’m concerned, they might as well be rated ‘Exemplary,’” Parra said.
Completion rates, too, are a key factor in ratings, especially at the secondary level, Wright said. Although some districts may have neglected their completion and dropout rates, they were a primary focus to LISD principals.
“Sam Lockhart found the students that didn’t enroll, met with them, made sure they were enrolled somewhere or asked them to come back,” Wright said, recounting a tale of the Pride High principal’s decision to meet a former student at a football game to discuss his academic future. “It’s because of that the numbers are the way they are. We did the tutoring, we kept track of the students and everyone worked really hard to make this happen.”
Wright said at the beginning of last year, more than 120 potential graduates had not yet passed the Exit-Level TAKS and were not eligible to graduate. At the end of the testing year, only 15 of those students had still not passed.
“Of course, we aren’t the ones in the classrooms making this happen,” Wright and Parra said. “We aren’t the ones taking the tests, and we aren’t the ones getting the students to perform at the level they can.”
The news of the district’s academic performance drew compliments from throughout the community, to the delight of LISD Board of Trustees president Susan Brooks.
“I am very excited that our district is Recognized and all of our campuses who are eligible are either Recognized or Exemplary,” she said. “This is great news for our community, because it focuses on the academic success of our students.”
Grade level breakdowns of student results at each campus will be available later this year.