VISD's rating drops to academically acceptable

July 29, 2011 at 2:29 a.m.

The Texas Education Agency on Friday rated the Victoria school district academically acceptable, a drop from the district's first-ever recognized rating last year.

Victoria East and West high schools were rated academically unacceptable, mostly because of low math and science scores and gaps in the performance of minority and economically disadvantaged students.

"We are not offering excuses, nor will we point fingers in addressing the stagnant scores for minority students, particularly in the areas of math and science," Superintendent Bob Moore said, reading from a prepared statement in a Friday news conference. "Pointing fingers or assessing blame will not make students more successful, and that is what we must pull together to do."

High school scores

Campus and district ratings are based partly on how students perform on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Test scores were similar for the first year of classes at East and West high schools. Both campuses reflected scores that were lower than the previous year's scores at Memorial High School.

Math and science tests proved to be most challenging for the high schoolers, which is a trend VISD has been tracking for years.

Moore said the district has struggled to recruit math teachers in the past few years. The district still has some unfilled math positions, but it's been able to attract more teachers by offering a $3,000 stipend.

"I think we're in really good shape to move forward," Moore said.

Targeting minorities

Last year, VISD jumped two levels to reach its recognized rating after the TEA deemed the district academically unacceptable in 2009.

The district attributed its unacceptable rating then to high dropout rates, which have mostly improved since.

VISD has intervened with its at-risk groups, offering programs like Destination Success camps, which aim to prepare students for both high school and middle school. The district also has expanded its AVID program, which provides individualized instruction with the goal of preparing students for college, said Susanne Carroll, executive director of curriculum, instruction and accountability.

"We have a number of interventions. They're wide and broad, depending on what the individual students need," Carroll said.

African-American completion rates dropped this year from 88 percent to 83 percent, meaning the district did not meet state requirements to improve in that area.

But the completion rates for Hispanics, the largest group of VISD students, has been steadily increasing from 68 percent in 2007 to 84 percent this year.

"Our instructional personnel worked very hard this year and can hold their heads high, even as we roll up our sleeves and seek strategies to do better," Moore said.

Elementary, middle schools

Two elementary schools - Vickers and Mission Valley - retained their exemplary rating this school year. That's down from eight exemplary schools last year.

All four middle schools received acceptable ratings, with Crain and Howell middle schools slipping from recognized status.

Achieving the two highest ratings was more difficult this year, as a certain percentage of students were required to not only pass the lowest standards but also perform to the commended standards, which are the more difficult test questions.

The TEA changed several other ways in which it assessed schools this year, which could contribute to VISD's drop, as well as the statewide drop.

Benchmark exams in the earlier part of the school year warned some campuses were projected to be unacceptable.

"We went in and worked with those particular campuses and teachers pretty intensively on redesigning their curriculum and activities," Caroll said. "With teachers implementing those specific activities to refocus and help the kids, they were able to move their campuses to acceptable ratings."

Looking ahead

Next year, the TEA will not assign ratings to schools as it phases in a new state assessment, the STAAR test.

That test is shaping up to be a more difficult exam that reflects a greater number of what the TAKS called those commended, or higher standards.

In the interim, the district plans to charge into the second year of its CSCOPE curriculum. The districtwide curriculum aims to ease disparities between campuses and to ensure children who move often receive the same education in each school.

"We have to make sure we focus on the needs of every child. That's the main thing," Moore said.



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