The good news? Dallas ISD maintained its B grade from the Texas Education Agency this year, in fact, it went up from an 81 to an 86. In fact, of 232 Dallas ISD schools, 28 got an A and 102 earned a B, making it 57 percent of Dallas ISD schools making an A or B this year.
The bad news? Last year the district had four schools that didn’t meet state standards. This year, the number is eight. But even that is couched in some good news/bad news. Only one school is a repeat from last year, meaning three of last year’s schools met state standard this year. But yes, it’s bittersweet when seven new schools join the list.
So Who Got an A?
Lots of expected schools, of course, but also some incredibly bright stories from places like Edward Titche Elementary and Jack Lowe Sr. Elementary, all schools that not that long ago didn’t meet state standards.
That’s how big the turnaround has been, which is why district staff and trustees can already say they are in the process of righting the ships at the seven new schools that have fallen to an F grade.
And that’s still significantly less than the 43 schools on the improvement required list five years ago.
“The difficult job of large urban districts is that once you feel you have it figured out, new challenges emerge,” trustee Miguel Solis said on his Facebook page the day the scores were released. “In our case, seven schools have now found their way onto the Improvement Required list. That means we have more work to do. Time to roll the sleeves up and get back to work.”
Cedar Crest Elementary, Frederick Douglass Elementary, Nancy J. Cochran Elementary, Roger Q. Mills Elementary, Rufus C. Burleson Elementary, Wilmer-Hutchins Elementary, John Leslie Patton Jr. Academic Center, and Kennedy-Curry Middle School did not meet state standards.
Patton earned an F last year, too, but is also a school geared toward older students.
Already At Work
At a board briefing last month, district superintendent Michael Hinojosa told trustees that the district had already begun pinpointing issues and working on them months ago. Five of the eight campuses had new principals, and the district realized early (thanks to faculty climate surveys and other data) that the district’s principal training program needed to be ramped up to better prepare principals.
Of the eight campuses that received F ratings, five had new principals last year, Hinojosa said. When the district received preliminary data months ago that pointed to problems at those schools, school officials stepped up the district’s leadership training program. As a result, principals are going into the upcoming school year better prepared than they were last year, he said.
And it seems that stepping up the Leader Excellence, Advancement and Development program is already working to improve the quality of incoming principals since Hinojosa told the board that the “caliber of principals that is coming across my desk to get appointed is significantly different.”
The district also has a plan to make sure that the students at those schools are getting the instruction and supports they need, district chief of school leadership Stephanie Elizalde told the board.
“We have a plan,” she said. “We know where we missed the mark, and we’re going to ensure that mark is not missed again.”
The board has also been looking at student achievement recently as well, examining STAAR testing trends. More students are approaching standard or meeting standard, and those displaying mastery of it are also holding steady. Even more impressive, economically disadvantaged students and English language learners are continuing to even outpace other student groups when it comes to mastery and meeting standard.
But what’s more interesting is that Dallas ISD said its own accountability system (the Local Accountability System for Campus Success) actually is more rigorous and holds students to a higher standard than the TEA does.
In other words, higher expectations are hopefully going to yield better long-term results.
“It’s important to know that Dallas ISD’s homegrown rating system – the Local Accountability System for Campus Success – applies a more robust standard for assessing schools than that applied by the state,” the district said. “In short, Dallas ISD is holding our schools to a higher standard than other districts that do not apply these additional criteria.”
The district said its criteria is designed to measure how well its schools are doing at teaching the whole child.
“The LAS assessment domains look at how a specific school is doing based on multiple measures – whether all students are making academic progress, and the health of the school’s culture and climate,” the district explained recently.
The LAS looks at things like whether the school is “growing its students” — no matter what level the student started on; the culture and priorities of the staff; feedback from parents and guardians; feedback from students; and how many students are participating in extracurricular activities and other opportunities.
“Based on these criteria, the district gives schools an A-F rating: Accomplished, Breakthrough, Competing, Developing and Focus,” the district said. Those ratings also are weighed when making certain decisions for campuses, as well as when the district is determining how much autonomy a principal will get.
The State of the A-F
Overall, the numbers continue to be encouraging for the district. Statewide, 296 high-poverty schools gained an A rating, TEA commissioner Mike Morath said.
“Performance continues to improve in Texas schools because of the tireless effort of Texas teachers, administrators and staff,” he said.
At its most simple explanation, the A-F system gives a district (and school) an overall rating based on performance in three areas: Student achievement (or what students are able to demonstrate they know at the end of the school year); school progress (which looks at student progress over time and compares it to similar schools); and “Closing the Gaps” (which tries to show how well different demographic groups of students are performing).
The scores are based on several things, including graduation rates; college or career readiness; SAT/ACT scores; STAAR scores, and college prep course completion.
“The majority of a district’s rating is based on indicators other than the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test,” the TEA said.
It’s hard to explain how the A-F system works, although Micah Taylor does a really great job of trying on his blog. A system that is supposed to simplify things when it comes to taking a snapshot of a school still requires a lot of moving parts in the background.