Advocate Editorial Board opinion: District is more than flawed system label

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Dec. 7, 2013 at 6:07 a.m.

For several months, the Victoria Independent School District has been caught in some contention with the state.

This year, VISD was rated as an improvement-required district after the Native American student group was not counted in the Closing the Achievement Gap category, or Index 3, because there were not enough students in the group taking the test. Because of that omission, VISD missed the state standard by less than a point. The district appealed the rating and requested that the Hispanic student group be substituted for the American Indian student group that was denied or that the American Indian group be counted. Then, Superintendent Robert Jaklich spoke with Michael L. Williams, state commissioner of education, and Williams agreed to personally review VISD's application.

Unfortunately, the district lost the second appeal, which means VISD will keep the improvement-required rating. Williams' decision to not grant VISD's request is disappointing but also points out a serious flaw in the rating system. In his Nov. 1 letter denying the district's appeal, Williams says: "Your appeal provided compelling arguments for the recalculation of the Index 3 outcomes based on modified minimum-size criteria for the American Indian student group or for the inclusion of the Hispanic student group due to the large portion of Hispanic students in the district. However, the application of either of these modifications for Victoria ISD would require the recalculation of the Index 3 outcomes for all districts and campuses." The letter goes on to explain that other districts would lose their met-standard rating if the results were recalculated. In a Nov. 25 letter to Jaklich, Williams said three districts and 42 campuses would lose their met-standard ratings while two districts, including VISD, and six campuses would meet the Index 3 target.

As Jaklich said in a meeting with the editorial board Tuesday: "We're one of those school districts that is caught in the net of a changing system." It is difficult to understand why three other districts are given a pass because of this loophole and why VISD is being penalized when the students and staff did what the state required of them.

The decision to exclude a group of students runs counter to the state's intent to evaluate a district based on a clear picture of overall achievement. VISD officials requested the inclusion of more data, which would offer a more complete analysis, but the state chooses to exclude the information. This is troubling in more ways than just how it relates to VISD. This flaw in the evaluation system is another symptom in Texas' ongoing struggle with education and creating an accurate, reliable accountability system for rating schools and districts. Perhaps Texas should stop picking and choosing specific ethnic groups and instead track the progress of all students. That would offer a much more complete and fair picture across all districts.

Thankfully, Williams and other state education leaders recognize the system is flawed and plan to look into this rating technicality, but this situation should serve as a reminder of the importance of paying attention to the actions and policies implemented by different state agencies. Voters put our state leaders in office, including the State Board of Education, who then appoint others to positions of power and influence. We as concerned citizens need to pay attention to the actions these officials make and the effect of these actions on our state. Voter participation numbers in statewide elections are depressingly low. We cannot afford to sit back and ignore the actions taken by the state when it can have such a negative impact on our community. Schools and districts are held accountable by the state, but who holds state officials accountable? The voters do.

Regardless of how the state will change the rating system for next year, VISD still faces the reality of bearing the improvement-required label until the next evaluation period. It is an unfortunate reality, but VISD's leaders are determined to move past this flaw and look to a bright future.

"This is not going to define us," Tami Keeling, VISD Board of Trustees president, said. "We have to wear the label, but this is not who we are."

We couldn't agree more. This is an opportunity not only for the district to push forward despite the state's inaccurate label but also for the community to rally around our schools.

VISD is moving in the right direction, but real change comes when members of the community become invested in the success of our district and its students. The success of our district has a direct impact on the success of Victoria as a whole. Companies and workers look at a district's accountability rating when choosing where to relocate. We must support our district if we want our community to prosper.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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