If you don’t agree with an unfavorable report, try to discredit the people who wrote it.
That’s essentially what Killeen Independent School District administrators have done in the wake of a study by a Texas-based nonpartisan research organization, Children at Risk, that gave the district low marks in the education of its students.
In essence, the district said the report wasn’t consequential because it wasn’t done by a government agency.
“This study is neither recognized as part of the State nor Federal Accountability system and remains a private organization’s analysis, which utilizes a very different methodology for assessing performance,” spokesman Shannon Rideout wrote in the district’s statement. Superintendent John Craft was out of the office the day the statement was released.
While the district officials were within their rights to question methodology, it’s worth noting that the three high schools that received F’s in the study also received poor grades — C’s, D’s and F’s — in an A-F ratings assessment from the Texas Education Agency early this year.
Granted, the methodology may have been different, but many of the criteria — including performance on the state STAAR test — were identical.
At any rate, when taken in conjunction with the TEA report in January, the latest study should have served as a wake-up call to administrators to make improvement in these problem areas a priority.
Instead, administrators and board members chose to blame the district’s high mobility rates for its perceived shortcomings.
Board member Minerva Trujillo cited the district’s tracking system, saying that once a student leaves the district, it’s difficult to determine whether the student has dropped out of school or has transferred to another district.
In some cases, that may be true, but in the large majority of transfers, the student’s new district would contact Killeen ISD to obtain the student’s transcripts.
In putting the blame on mobility, the district is also indirectly placing the blame on the military — and that’s simply not right.
While the transient nature of the Army may account for a higher student mobility rate compared to other districts, it’s not fair to equate military connectedness with lower academic performance.
In fact, a Herald analysis of individual school ratings found that campuses located at Fort Hood were some of the highest-performing schools in the district. Five of the seven on-post campuses — Audie Murphy Middle School, Clear Creek Elementary, Duncan Elementary, Montague Elementary and Venable Elementary — received “A” ratings. Oveta Culp Hobby Elementary scored a “B” and Meadows Elementary earned a “C.”
That’s a surprising statistic, especially since only three off-post schools earned an A, among the 45 total campuses in the Killeen school district.
Obviously, the schools at Fort Hood have a high number of military-connected students, and correspondingly high mobility. So if mobility is seen as dragging down the district’s ratings, why the high scores for on-post schools?
And is the district so quick to dismiss the report’s high marks for these campuses as it is the low grades afforded the high schools? Is the study’s methodology at fault when it comes to these highly rated campuses?
You can’t have it both ways.
Dropouts are not a problem at the elementary and middle school levels as they are in secondary schools, so mobility rates are likely more of a factor in the upper grades. But surely there’s more to the high schools’ poor marks than the transient nature of their military-connected populations.
TEA data show that in 2015, KISD’s graduation rate was at 90 percent with a dropout rate of 4.3 percent. Both percentages were slightly better than the 2015 statewide average of 89 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively.
Granted, there is room for improvement in these areas. But the fact that Killeen ISD is expected to receive more than $47 million in federal Impact Aid in the coming year in connection with the district’s military-connected population makes excuses about high mobility seem even more disingenuous.
Certainly, there are more factors at play in the district’s varied school ratings.
The same Herald analysis that identified the high-performing campuses on post revealed a troubling pattern of low-performing schools in lower-income areas of the district.
That’s not uncommon statewide. As the Children at Risk study notes, socioeconomic challenges are typically a factor in students’ academic performance.
Certainly, parental guidance and involvement are also major factors in how well students succeed in the classroom.
It’s possible that KISD’s on-post schools fare well, not only because parents are involved with their students, but military commanders exercise hands-on oversight in many cases — watching for dangerous behavior such as chronic tardiness or truancy, and warning the military parents as needed.
Having that extra level of accountability obviously helps to offset some of the challenges students and their parents face with frequent military-connected relocations.
No doubt, good, dedicated teachers abound in Killeen, along with committed counselors and administrators. It would be unfair to lay the problems identified in the TEA and Children at Risk reports at their feet.
But the district’s administration and board members must acknowledge that the problems identified in these reports are real — and to this point, that’s been a problem.
It’s simply not acceptable that frustrated parents must continue sending their children to lower-performing schools while administrators insist nothing is wrong.
Moreover, the federal Base Realignment and Closure commission considers education as one of the main criteria when determining where to locate troops and their families — and where to make cuts. Pentagon officials are urging another BRAC round in 2018 or 2021.
As such, KISD’s performance concerns the community as a whole.
Granted, Killeen ISD officials were far from the only district administrators who found fault with the TEA’s accountability ratings — and indeed, there were some serious shortcomings that were brought to the attention of state lawmakers in the recent legislative session.
Similarly, the Children at Risk study no doubt contained questionable conclusions, based on the methodology.
But given the fact that so many of the problem areas identified in the two studies overlapped, district officials should be concerned.
When confronted by unwelcome data, their first inclination should be to vow to improve, not dismiss the data as flawed.
Anything less lacks accountability — and that’s something the district’s students, parents and taxpayers should demand.