August 1, 2008

Texas Accountability Ratings Out Today; Polytechnic High Could Face Closure

By Eva-Marie Ayala and Diane Smith, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

Aug. 1--Polytechnic High School students are making gains on the state's standardized test, but those scores may not be enough to keep the southeast Fort Worth school off the list of those targeted for closure because of poor academic ratings, officials said.

The annual accountability ratings for Texas schools and school districts are scheduled to be released at 1 p.m. today. If Poly is rated academically unacceptable for the fourth year in a row, it will face tougher sanctions that could include closure.

Schools that fail to improve after four years may be closed or placed under alternative management by Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, said DeEtta Culbertson, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman.

Last year, all traditional schools in Northeast Tarrant County and the Arlington area were rated academically acceptable or better.

As of Thursday, Scott had not said how he will handle schools rated academically unacceptable for a fourth or fifth year, Culbertson said.

Before deciding to close a school, the commissioner reviews monthly campus reports and improvement plans. Schools facing a fifth year as academically unacceptable are also asked to have provisional plans in place. By the fifth year, Texas law dictates that the commissioner "shall order closure," Culbertson said.

Polytechnic Principal Gary Braudaway said Thursday that he has seen the rating information, though the district had not released it publicly.

"The bottom line isn't the bottom line on these ratings," he said. "What the ratings don't show is that scale scores are up, some students by 200 to 600 points. â“š...They don't show the students' growth we've had here."

The state has closed two schools because of poor performance: Johnston High School in Austin and Sam Houston High School in Houston, both in June. Johnston was facing its fifth year as academically unacceptable, and Houston was facing its sixth.

A third school, G.L. Wiley Middle School in Waco, is facing its fifth rating as academically unacceptable. Scott ordered help in science instruction and granted the school a one-year waiver from alternative management, according to the Waco school district Web site.

This year, more students must pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills for their schools to be rated academically acceptable, the second tier on the state's four-tier rating scale.

Many challenges

The Fort Worth district had the most schools in Tarrant County -- 15 -- rated unacceptable last year.

Four high schools besides Polytechnic were also rated unacceptable: Diamond Hill, Dunbar, Eastern Hills and South Hills.

Four middle schools -- Dunbar, Leonard, Meadowbrook and Wedgwood -- missed being rated acceptable last year, and five elementary schools did not reach that rating. Those were I.M. Terrell, Morningside, Sunrise-McMillian, Western Hills (both primary and elementary) and Woodway.

District leaders have said the number of schools rated unacceptable will go down this year. They are also predicting an increase in recognized schools.

Charter schools

Three area charter schools will learn whether they have been rated unacceptable for the third year.

They are Jean Massieu Academy in Arlington, and Richard Milburn and Theresa B. Lee in Fort Worth. If they fail to reach acceptable status, they will have to replace staff.

Texas school ratings Check after 1 p.m. today.


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