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John Tyler, Lee on list of low performing schools in state

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From the Tyler Morning Telegraph:
 
John Tyler and Lee on state's list of lowest performers
BY EMILY GUEVARA
eguevara@tylerpaper.com

John Tyler and Robert E. Lee high schools were named to the state's Public Education Grant list, which identifies the lowest performing schools in the state.

Both campuses were placed on the list because they received an academically unacceptable rating for the 2010-11 school year.
Although student performance had improved in some areas for Lee that year and in all measured areas for John Tyler that year, it didn't meet the bar for the academically acceptable state rating.

That rating was based primarily on student performance on the Texas Ass­ess­ment of Knowledge and Skills, the state's previous testing system. 

At both schools, it was poor performance in math among one or more student groups that caused the unacceptable rating. 

The list identifies campuses in which 50 percent or more of their students failed a standardized test during any two of the past three years, or campuses that received academically unacceptable ratings in one of the past three years. 

No schools received accountability ratings last year because of the new testing system, so this year's list considers only 2010 and 2011 when it comes to ratings. 

Because Lee and John Tyler are on this list, parents of students at both schools can apply for their student to attend a campus that is not on the list in any other school district for the 2013-14 school year, according to the Texas Education Agency website. 

The school district to which they apply can accept or reject the application provided they do not discriminate in the process. 

Normally, the students also could apply for an in-district transfer to a non-PEG list school, but because both TISD high schools are on the list, that isn't possible. 

Dr. Karen Raney, TISD's director of assessment and accountability, said this list is about an old testing and accountability system, and the district is moving into the new system, STAAR.

She said the district has worked very hard to prepare for the STAAR system and is looking forward to solid performances under it. 

"(We're) never happy with any kind of negative performance," she said. "(We) always want to do better." 

She said placement on the list will change nothing as far as what is going on at those campuses. She said the district already is under certain school improvement provisions because of the unacceptable ratings. 

Each school is reviewing the progress of student groups that were not performing up to standards. She said that monitoring will continue moving forward. 

The list is "there, and we don't want to be on it, and we're working hard to get off," she said. 

She said to her knowledge few, if any, students have used this list as a reason to transfer out of TISD in the past 10 years. 

This year's results do represent an improvement. Last year, TISD had four schools on the list. 

They were both high schools along with Dogan and Hogg middle schools. Neither middle school was on the list this year. 

Because the state considers a three-year period when determining what schools are on the list, schools must have solid performance for two, and, in some cases, three years to get off the list. 

Statewide, 456 schools were named to the list. That's slightly more than 6 percent of the state's almost 7,500 rated schools.

No other Smith County School district had campuses on the list.

The Texas Legislature established the Public Education Grant program in 1995, according to the Texas Education Agency website. 

Since that time, the number of schools included on the list has fluctuated dramatically from more than 1,000 when the first list was issued in 1995, to less than 200 some years.

Several TISD parents said although the news isn't good, it doesn't necessarily reflect the school experience their kids have. 

"I would put any of our top students against any top student in the state of Texas," Lee parent Sarah Starr said. "We have outstanding students, outstanding teachers, and I think if our teachers and our students had facilities where they could function better … I'm willing to guess that we probably would be able to be off of those lists."

Ms. Starr, who is a former teacher, said her daughter graduated last year and was accepted into the college of her choice, receiving scholarships based on her academic abilities. 
"I realize there's not (a) perfect school," she said. "Every school that I have ever known anything about has had issues from time to time and needed to address those, and that's important," she said. "I think TISD is aware of what the issues are and the problems are, and they're working hard to address the weaknesses that need to be addressed."

She said there's no easy solution to the problem, but parents need to be supportive and involved in the process about how to fix the problems that exist. 

John Tyler parent Dorothy Hubbard said she doesn't see this list or the standardized test performance it is based on as a full or accurate representation of how the school is doing. 

She said schools on this list, such as John Tyler, can show improved performance but still miss the state standard, so that improvement isn't necessarily reflected in the ratings.

Ms. Hubbard, who works as an interior designer on remodels, said she takes a more holistic approach when looking at what makes a school great. 

This includes discipline, student-to-teacher ratios, diversity, and administrators' rapport with students, none of which are measured on a state test. She said students also have different learning styles, and standardized tests don't necessarily account for those.

"If we have systems that could give us a more overall view and the growth of a child, then that would be something that could help determine whether or not that's a good school to put your kid in or not," she said. "But when you have only one way of doing things, it doesn't give you a good view of how the school is growing."
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