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How Did Huntsville Schools Get an “F?” Looking at the Process

How Were Grades Arrived At?

By Rich Heiland

Free Press Publications, LLC

For Walker County News Today

First in a Series

 WHEN THE TEXAS Education Association released its grades of Texas school districts, from district-wide down to pre-K, the new accountability system was not well-received by educators around the state.Huntsville Independent School District received an “F” under the new system.

Superintendents and education leaders around the state have slammed the system, which rates school districts in three areas, then comes up with a lump grade. Results from all the campuses within a district feed into that overall ISD grade.

Critics have said it’s almost impossible to paint an honest picture of a district using the methodology TEA employed. And, several districts were given waivers from participating because of Hurricane Harvey and other issues so not all schools are included.

At least one critic said using the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness(STARR) tests as a large component is misleading because “all it does is show the ability of a student to take one test on one day.”

TEA refutes that. Commissioner Mike Morath has pushed back on STARR test slammers, pointing out STARR is a step up from the old Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test (TAKS). At a Round Rock ISD meeting he said the STARR tests represented a “wholistic evaluation” and did provide a basis for monitoring progress.

The grades were not well-received in Huntsville.

“I would ask our community, first of all, to view our current accountability as where we have been, not where we are going,” Superintendent Dr. Scott Sheppard told Walker County News Today. “That rating occurred before I arrived, and before a lot of our new principals and leaders arrived.”

Still, the grades are out there. Any discussion of them has to start with a look athow the system is set up.

Critics, including HISD’s Sheppard, have a point. It is a snapshot in time and a look back. But it also provides a lot of interesting information about a district and, whether intended or not, lends credence to the argument that it is misleading and dangerous to compare districts, or even students.

HOW DOES IT work?

First, schools are graded on a point system not unlike what students experience. On a one-to-100 scale, 90-100 is an A; 80-89 is a B; 70-79 is a C; 60-69 is a D; and, 0-59 is an F, which was the overall grade for HISD.

How the grades are arrived at is based on three groupings of data. These groupings are used at all the individual schools, then combined to create the ISD grade. It is possible, using the data, to compare not just one ISD with another, but all grade levels within a district with each other and like grade groupings from other ISDs.

While there are three groupings of data, there are not three scores put into the final grade. According to TEA, “we take the high score between how much students know and can do (Student Achievement) or how much better students are doing than last year, or than their peers in other schools. (School Progress.)”

Student Achievement is just what it sounds like. There are several ways to evaluate achievement. In key skill areas, reading and math, the STARR test is the leading indicator because, TEA says, it measures what students know and can do in tested subjects. Graduation rates also are factored in. The assessment looks at that in relation to whether students are ready for college, work or the military.

School Progressis a measure of how much better students performed on the STARR test the current year compared to the previous year. This is different than how STARR is used in the first grouping. That takes the score and compares it to expectations. In this section, it measures the students’ progress year over year, and hence a school’s and district’s progress.

Within this category TEA once again looks at a “higher” area to determine a final grade. There are two basic categories: Academic Growth and Relative Performance. The first measures the number of students who made a year’s worth of progress. “Relative” measures the level compared to schools with, form example, similar levels of poverty.

The poverty measure is a critical one. The report refers to it as “economically disadvantaged,” and it is based on the number of students eligible for free meals. Whichever score is higher between academic and relative growth will determine the final grade.

Closing the Gap, the final category, parses the data even further. This section is designed to show how well the district is doing in evening out the quality of education over identifiable groups based on ethnicity, such as White, Afro-American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American and mixed. It also can include special education and economically disadvantaged, and a student can be in more than one of those groupings.

The guidelines for the school lunch program used are Federal:

·     One member household – $22,459

·     Two-member household – $30,451

·     Three-member household – $38,451

·     Four-member household – $46,435

·     Five-member household – $54,427

·     Six-member household – $62,419

·     Seven-member household – $70,411

·     Eight-member household – $78,403

The goal is to blur the lines between those distinctions when it comes to overall accomplishments.

The score for Closing the Gap is based on 50 percent grade level performance; 10 percent academic growth/graduation rate; 10 percent English language proficiency; and, 30 percent student achievement.

Part 2 – Looking at the HISD schools and how they fared

Part 3 – Supt. Scott Sheppard responds to measures

Part 4 – Digging into issues inside and outside HISD

Part 5 – First part of an interview with Supt. Sheppard

Part 6 – Final installment – A new approach

 

Rich Heiland, former publisher of the Huntsville Item and owner of Free Press publications, LLC, a reporting/writing firm working with media, has been a reporter, editor and publisher at several daily papers. He was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team. He taught journalism at Western Illinois University. He can be reached freepresstx@gmail.com or 936-293-0293.

About Rich Heiland

Rich Heiland, former publisher of the Huntsville Item and owner of Free Press publications, LLC, a reporting/writing firm working with media, has been a reporter, editor and publisher at several daily papers. He was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team. He taught journalism at Western Illinois University. He can be reached at freepresstx@gmail.com or 936-293-0293.

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