Hays CISD receives C in accountability rating

Despite improvement at a handful of individual campuses, Hays CISD officials maintain there is “work to do” after the district received a C in the Texas Education Agency’s 2018 A-F accountability ratings.

But Eric Wright, Hays CISD superintendent, said he opposes the state’s rating system, citing its over-reliance on standardized testing scores.

“I’m against a ‘one-size, fits-all’ system,” Wright said. “Our students don’t come to us in a ‘one-size, fits-all’ mode.”

Hays CISD and San Marcos CISD both received grades in the high-70s, or a C+, according to the state’s new system.

TEA’s rating system utilizes three domains to measure academic performance of districts. The system ranks school districts with a report card-like grade that goes from A to F.

One of those factors is student achievement, which measures what students know and can do by the end of the year, according to the TEA website. That includes results from various state assessments, such as the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams.

Other factors include student progress, which measures the improvement students made on the STAAR test from the previous year, as well as closing the gaps, which looks at performance amongst student groups, including racial or ethic groups and socioeconomic background.

According to the TEA website, individual campuses were rated on the current system – Met Standard, Met Alternative Standard or Improvement Required (IR). The TEA plans to apply the A-F ranking system to individual campuses in 2019.

Wright said the overall grade was a good starting point for the district to grow on. Wright also cited “huge growth” in grades received by Science Hall and Hemphill Elementary, which had previously been labeled as IR campuses.

Both elementary schools met standard and scored above a 70, according to the system. Merideth Keller, Hays CISD board of trustees president, said a renewed focus on early literacy, which was a by-product of Wright and his new staff, has already proven successful, primarily in campuses that had been struggling.

Wright said aligning curriculum has helped to provide structure within the district. Prior to utilizing a uniform system, Wright said every campus “was an island in of itself.”

On average, campuses on the west side of Interstate 35 scored slightly higher than those on the east side. Hays CISD campuses located on the west side of Interstate 35 had an average score of 82.2, while schools on the east side averaged a 74.2.

But Keller said she did not believe there is a divide in how the district approaches its east and west side schools. Keller cited the breakdown in funding and resources allocated to lower socioeconomic campuses.

“We can’t go without acknowledging that we have work to do and it’s going to take a concentrated effort,” Keller said. “It’s going to be all hands on deck.”

However, the TEA labeled Tom Green Elementary, which scored a 58 in the new system, an IR campus. All three Hays CISD middle schools located on the east side of Interstate 35, Simon, McCormick and Chapa, scored below a 70 grade.

Wright said the district plans to change the structure and leadership at Tom Green Elementary to turn the grade around. Since the start of the 2017 school year, Tom Green has had three principals, with the district recently hiring Jennifer Hanna to lead the campus in 2018.

Wright also believed the TEA’s rating system is diagnostic in nature only, and shouldn’t be the “end all, be all.” Wright said his fear is people could judge the district based on the grade only, instead of other factors.

“There is so much more in overall performance than what a kid did on the STAAR test,” Wright said. “When you look at what we’re charged with, we prepare future workforce and development skills. I don’t know many employers or universities that use the STAAR test as a factor.”

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