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VISD loses 2nd rating appeal; officials criticize education commissioner

By Carolina Astrain
Dec. 3, 2013 at 6:03 a.m.


INDICATORS

There are four areas of grading by the Texas Education Agency's new accountability rating system.

Index 1, Student Achievement: This measures how students did on their math, reading/English language arts and writing state exams.

• Index 2, Student Progress: This is a new part of the state's accountability system. It measures student progress by subject on their state exams from year to year.

• Index 3, Closing Performance Gaps: This index measures the academic achievements of a district's economically disadvantaged group of students.

• Index 4, Post-secondary Readiness: This measures a campus' graduation and dropout rates in connection with college readiness.

Source: Texas Education Agency

Despite what the numbers say, the Victoria school district still remains an improvement-required district.

Michael L. Williams, state commissioner of education, denied the school district its appeal of its accountability rating Monday.

The news came as a disappointment to school board President Tami Keeling.

"This is not going to define us," Keeling said. "We know this is not who we are."

After receiving its first denial last month, Williams agreed to look at the case personally after Superintendent Robert Jaklich sought reconsideration.

"The official had a chance to make a call," Jaklich said. "I'm not blaming the commissioner. We're taking the responsibility for this, but it's hard to swallow."

At Tuesday's Victoria Economic Development Corp.'s partnership meeting, school district officials shared the news with area business leaders, who were angered by Williams' decision.

"A terrible injustice has been done here," said Rawley McCoy, president of Rawley McCoy and Associates, a Victoria architects and design firm. "You should always strive to be better. I don't care if you're at the bottom or the top; that's what our district is doing."

Lanell Mantey also was at the partnership meeting.

"It's a really messed up deal," said Mantey, executive director of the Victoria Business Education Coalition and parent of two Victoria high school students. "We feel it's not showing the true picture of successes of our students."

Under the state's new accountability system, VISD missed meeting standards by less than one point in one of the system's four categories.

The district fell short in Index 3, or the Closing the Achievement Gap category, which looked at test scores from three student groups: American Indian, African-American and the economically disadvantaged.

However, because there were fewer than 25 American Indian students who took State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness exams last year at VISD, the scores from that subgroup were not included in the final calculation because of federal student privacy laws.

That exclusion meant those test scores were not counted, which affected the overall rating.

Jaklich explained how using those test scores from the American Indian group would have given the district a passing score of 58, as opposed to its score of 54.

"Who is keeping the commissioner accountable?" Keeling asked. "To stand up and say this is wrong is part of our job."

VISD is not alone. In the second denial letter, Williams states that another school district and six other campuses in a similar circumstance would have also met Index 3 had the minimum size criteria been changed.

Had VISD been granted the appeal, the result would have affected other districts that would have lost their met-standard ratings, the commissioner wrote.

Four of 19 school districts that did not originally meet standards won their appeals. Ninety-three percent of school districts and charters across the state met standards.

The commissioner could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

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