Making the grade

TEA releases school accountability ratings

Courtesy photo A Donna student studies in a school library.

McALLEN — The school district here welcomed its teachers, employees and students in a general assembly as they gathered in the McAllen Convention Center, celebrating the upcoming school year and maintaining the state’s highest accountability rating for the second time in a row Thursday afternoon.

McAllen ISD Superintendent Jose Gonzalez announced the district’s A grade — the second consecutive year achieving this landmark.

“That doesn’t come easy… there’s over a thousand school districts in the state of Texas,” Gonzalez said addressing the crowd.

The Texas Education Agency released its official accountability ratings for school districts and campuses for the 2018-19 school year, in which school districts can earn an A through F rating. The district also performed “exceptionally well” in post-secondary readiness according, a website maintained by TEA.

Results depicting school districts and campuses were publicly available Thursday morning.

McAllen is among three districts, and one open-enrollment charter in Hidalgo County that received an A rating, which is the highest score a district or campus can achieve. The amount of total A-rated school districts decreased from last year, with Edinburg and Hidalgo school districts falling to an 89, a single point shy of the top score.

Twelve traditional school districts and four charters in Hidalgo County earned a “B,” the next highest rating a district or campus can earn. No districts earned a C this year in Hidalgo County, with Donna and Edcouch-Elsa moving up to a B in this year’s ratings.

For Starr County, Roma maintained its A rating, while Rio Grande City earned a nine-point increase in their district, going from a C to a B. San Isidro remained the same, with a B.

With the current rating system in its second year, there are changes to some of its accountability rankings. For 2017-18, the schools received a “met-standard” or “improvement required” but will now received A through F ratings like overall districts.

McAllen ISD has 33 schools and a student enrollment of over 22,000. This year, 13 campuses earning an A, 13 receiving a B and five schools getting a C, along two campuses labeled “NA,” according to McAllen ISD board president Marco Suarez noted James “Nikki” Rowe High School earned seven distinctions where they performed “exceptionally well,” along with an A, one of the few schools in the state to do so, he said.

“Every school has their challenges, every district has their challenges, our focus is just to make sure McAllen can keep up and be not only ranked in the Valley, but we’re a state contender,” he said.

Monte Alto and Donna school districts earned the highest increase from last year in Hidalgo County, each obtaining an eight-point increase. Donna went from a C to a B rating while Monte Alto maintained its B rating.

Donna ISD Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez expressed this as a sign of the district’s upward trajectory, going from a 77 to an 85 compared to last year. Azaiez took the helm at Donna in July 2018, with the state accountability ratings coinciding with a little over a year of his tenure. There has been a lot of transition this year with attrition and balancing the budget, he said.

“It tells me about the dedication and hardwork of our teachers and staff here that whenever they’re faced with challenges, they produce and overcome those challenges,” Azaiez said.

Although he noted that there are steps the district still needs to take.

“We still have a lot of work to be done, we have, especially in a few of our campuses that we want to see improve, We still have work to be done in those individual campuses but overall, as a district, I think we’re definitely moving it forward,” Azaiez said.

Vanguard Academy, an open-enrollment charter, earned a 97, the highest score out of any district or charter in Hidalgo and Starr counties.

The 85th Texas Legislature created three domains for gauging performance in school districts and campuses through student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps, according to the TEA website.

The closing the gaps portion accounts for 30% of the overall accountability whereas the better of the two other categories, Student achievement or school progress make up 70% of the overall accountability score, according to the TEA website.

The domain of student achievement is calculated factoring in STAAR testing results, graduation rates and college, career and military readiness. School progress takes academic growth and relative performance into account.

Closing the gaps, the last category — which will always count in the overall score — factors in race and ethnicity, special education, continuously enrolled and mobile, English learners and the economically disadvantaged.

About 25% or 301 school districts and charters earned an A for the 2018-19 school year, according to the TEA press release. District ratings for a B made up the largest group with 677 or 57% of both districts and charters. A rating of a C is 154 or 13%, a rating of a D is 43 with 4% and the last category is an F with about 14 or 1%, including districts and charters.

The press release also notes that ratings of an A and B increased from the 2017-18 to the 2018-19 school year.