The Texas Education Agency declared 949 public school districts accredited — 90 percent of all 1,025 districts — in its yearly report issued Friday. All districts in western Bell County, and Lampasas and Coryell counties were deemed accredited.
“Texans should be pleased to see the vast majority of districts, charters, and campuses are meeting the standards set in the second year of the state accountability system,” Commissioner of Education Michael Williams said. “While the 2014 numbers are strong, the work continues in districts across our state to meet and exceed increasing state standards and the expectations of their local communities.”
The TEA’s yearly accreditation reports began in 1991 and grades districts on four performance indexes: student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps and post-secondary readiness.
State school districts are tested for comparison and accountability purposes, with scores issued by calculating standardized test scores, past test scores, difference in subpopulation student test scores and graduation rates, among other factors.
The area’s largest district, Killeen Independent School District, was deemed accredited in all four performance indexes, but was given no extra distinctions.
Distinction designations are awarded to campuses based on achievement in several performance indicators relative to a group of 40 campuses of similar type, size and student demographics, according to the TEA website. In 2014, 400 schools were issued distinction out of more than 4,500 campuses.
Killeen ISD saw the largest achievement gap between state expectation and its performance in the student progress category, meaning students largely improved their standardized test scores in the 2013-2014 school year compared to the previous year. Killeen ISD scored 25 points above the state requirement.
“The Killeen Independent School District will continue to utilize the state assessment data as one instrument to help assess the progress of our current curriculum and instructional programs,” John Craft, interim superintendent for Killeen ISD, said in a statement. “Through the continuous improvement process, we will work collaboratively to make any appropriate adjustments necessary to ensure our students are successful.”
The district also scored 21 points above the state requirement in the student achievement performance index, which is based largely off standardized test scores form the 2013-2014 school year.
“KISD is excited to see areas of growth and the district will continue to analyze the data in the future in an effort to identify areas in need of improvement,” Craft said. “We appreciate the hard work and dedication of our teachers, staff and students and we are proud of their accomplishments.”
Copperas Cove ISD also was accredited, scoring slightly higher in three of the four performance indexes compared to Killeen ISD, but earned no district distinctions. Cove ISD fell below its neighbor only in the student progress category.
“Basically, we were optimistically hopeful that all of our campuses were given our indexes,” said Katie Ryan, Cove ISD deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “But, then we wanted to start looking at distinction designation, I term those gold stars, and I was really excited because seven of 10 campuses achieved distinction designations.”
Ryan said statewide, school districts will be seeking ways to improve special education student test scores, as the closing performance gaps index rates districts on how well their multiple student sub demographics compare to the majority.
“It’ll give me gray hair ... but it’s good, they’re really holding our feet to the fire,” she said.
Belton ISD also met the criteria for accreditation, earning no distinctions, but scoring well above state expectations in the student achievement category by 26 points.
Salado ISD, the smallest of the area’s districts, also was accredited and scored 30 points above state expectations in the student achievement category. Salado ISD also did not earn any district distinctions.
Lampasas ISD was deemed accredited with no district designations as well. It scored the highest in the student progress category, earning 24 points more than the state required 16.
The 2014 state ratings remained fairly stable compared to 2013 when 92.5 percent of school districts were accredited.
Besides achievement gaps, the new ratings are designed to better take into account graduation rates, performance on college-entrance exams and how well students are prepared to go to college or directly into a career or vocation upon leaving high school.
Schools and districts making the fastest progress in closing achievement gaps with minorities and students from low-income families will get a bump in their ratings.
Williams said this emphasis is important since 65 percent of Texas children are either black or Hispanic and 60 percent come from impoverished households, the most at-risk groups for dropping out of school.
Not everyone is thrilled with the still-evolving system.
The Texas Association of Business, a powerful lobbying group, has long complained that Texas’ graduation standards are too lenient and that the rating system has now been tweaked to make mediocre performances by schools and districts look like improvements.
“Only 9 percent of schools are being ranked as low performing under this system,” said Bill Hammond, the association’s CEO. “These ratings allow our education system to appear successful while the true story is that more students are ill-prepared to enter college or establish a career upon graduation. ”
This year’s reports included only ratings of “met standard” or “improvement required.”
Beginning in the 2016-2017 academic year, school districts will earn an A through F letter grade.
Texas lawmakers said the system, which has been used in other states, will make it easier for parents and students to understand how their schools and districts measure up.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.