The Waco Independent School District received a higher accountability rating from the state this year, improving its overall score from a C to a B, according to the ratings released Thursday morning.

This is the first year campuses also received A through F accountability ratings, which are largely based on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness from the state education agency. Districts received letter grades last year but schools did not.

Of the 22 Waco ISD schools that were rated, five received B’s, including both University High School and Waco High School. Seven others received C’s, and seven received F’s.

No campus received an A rating, according to txschools.gov, the state’s updated accountability website intended to provide greater transparency for educators and the public.

Statewide, 257 school districts received an A rating, but most — 622 out of 1,022 — received a B grade, according to a Texas Education Agency press release. Six school districts got an F rating, and 21 got a D.

State Education Commissioner Mike Morath said at a media roundtable earlier this week that the A-F accountability system is a “performance management system” designed to gauge student progress and plan steps to improve academic performance.

“It is a system that is designed to highlight achievement and highlight academic impact,” Morath said. “It’s a lot of work that goes into trying to help the next generation of Texas kids have it better than the last.”

He said the performance of Texas students has been generally flat with a slight upward trend, but student achievement after high school has been stagnant for about a decade.

Of the seven Waco ISD schools that received F’s, two are part of Transformation Waco, the in-district charter system that started operating in 2018 and is tasked with improving student achievement at its five schools that were at risk of closure by the state. The two F-rated schools are J.H. Hines Elementary School and G.W. Carver Middle School.

J.H. Hines Elementary and G.W. Carver Middle saw their overall scores decline 18 and 20 points, respectively. The other three Transformation Waco schools saw at least some improvement. Alta Vista Elementary School and Indian Spring Middle School both saw their overall scores increase by one point and received C grades. Brook Avenue Elementary, which had been rated “improvement required” — the equivalent of an F last year — increased its overall score by 20 points and received a C this year.

Transformation Waco CEO Robin McDurham said she is thrilled Brook Avenue made enough gains to no longer be classified as a failing school, despite the dips in scores at Carver and Hines.

“We know and have been looking very closely at what needs to be addressed, and we feel like we’ll pull them off next year,” she said, referring to the state’s list of chronically underperforming schools. “Carver and Hines were the only two schools where we replaced the whole administrative teams and nearly 50 percent of the teaching staff, which is always a problem with any campus.”

At the five Transformation Waco schools, teacher turnover rate is about 40% each year, while Waco ISD sees roughly 26% teacher turnover every year, McDurham said. The state average turnover rate is 16%.

“That is what the data says. The schools that often have been considered high challenge have the highest turnover, but that’s not something that is new information,” she said. “There’s not a whole lot of solutions.”

But McDurham and her team are combating teacher turnover with an alternative certification program with a cohort of 16 teachers who have been training all summer for the classroom. Those teachers will eventually earn their master’s degree on Transformation Waco’s dime as part of the program.

“A third of Hines staff this year are teachers who are getting their master’s degree, and they’ve given us a five year commitment,” she said. “They’re already ahead of the game because we spent all summer getting them ready for the first day. That’s the kind of change we believe will make a long-term difference in our schools.”

Transformation Waco board President Malcolm Duncan Jr. said the ratings are a bit discouraging but that he has been assured there will be no more F ratings next year.

“There’s just so many things we learned the first year about how to really address the challenges in the classroom and the social determinants” affecting student success, Duncan said. “It’s not just one simple preparation for a STAAR test that makes an F or a C or a B.”

Interim Superintendent Hazel Rowe said in a press release that it is gratifying that Waco ISD’s overall rating has improved to a B.

“That is a reflection of the dedication and hard work of our educators and our students,” Rowe said. “It’s also significant that University High and Waco High both received B’s. Districtwide, three out of every five Waco ISD students attend a school that received either a B or a C. On the other hand, too many of our schools are still struggling under the state’s current accountability system. Where we have made progress, we should take note of that, but we should not be satisfied with the ratings released today.

“These ratings matter, and they are important. However, they don’t measure everything that matters, and they definitely don’t capture all that is important. Trying to reduce everything that happens in a school over the course of a year to a single letter grade based mostly on how students do on a few standardized tests is a fool’s errand. Learning is more complex than that, and not every student starts their educational journey in the same place.”

But Morath said Monday that the ratings take into account more than just the STAAR exams. The ratings are determined by three domains: student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps, with the first two domains accounting for 70% of the district’s or school’s score and the latter 30%.

Student achievement is broken down into three aspects: the STAAR; college, career and military readiness; and graduation rates. School progress examines how many students grew a year academically or how the school’s performance compared to similar schools. The state uses whichever measure is higher.

The rest of the score, closing the gaps, looks at a mix of achievement and growth for various groups of students, such as students learning English, special education students and those who are economically disadvantaged.

“From a statistical perspective, this design produces ratings that are not strongly correlated with poverty, on an overall basis,” Morath said.

Susan Kincannon, Waco ISD’s lone finalist for superintendent and Belton ISD’s current superintendent, also questioned the state accountability rating system in a Belton ISD press release.

“These ratings are based merely on selected content area tests taken on one day of the school year,” Kincannon said in the press release. “They are designed to be only one measure of success, and should be seen for no more than just that.

“A–F rating systems are inherently flawed in that students and schools are held to the same standards and rate of learning without consideration of the many variables and factors which impact achievement. This inequitable system places judgment on schools without consideration of unique human conditions, especially for schools with high concentrations of poverty.”

Belton ISD also received a B accountability rating.


Waco ISD state accountability ratings by campus

Source: Texas Education Agency

District / Campus Name Overall Rating Student Achievement Academic Growth Relative Performance Closing the Gaps
Waco ISD B C D B C
Alta Vista Elementary C D C D C
Bell’s Hill Elementary B C B B B
Brook Avenue Elementary C F C F D
Cedar Ridge Elementary C D D C C
Crestview Elementary C D C D C
Dean Highland Elementary F F F F F
Hillcrest PDS C D C F C
J.H. Hines Elementary F F F F F
Kendrick Elementary D F F D D
Lake Air Montessori D D F F D
Mountainview Elementary F D F F F
Parkdale Elementary D D D D D
Provident Heights Elementary B C B C C
South Waco Elementary F F F D F
West Avenue Elementary C F C D C
Cesar Chavez Middle F D F D F
G.W. Carver Middle F F F F F
Indian Spring Middle C D D C D
Tennyson Middle B C C B C
Brazos High F D F N/R F
University High B B C B C
Waco High B C B B C

McLennan County state accountability ratings

Source: Texas Education Agency

District Overall Dimension Dimension Dimension Dimension
OVERALL STUDENT
ACHIEVEMENT
ACADEMIC
GROWTH
RELATIVE
PERFORMANCE
CLOSING
THE GAPS
CHINA SPRING ISD A A C B A
China Spring Elementary A A N/R C B
China Spring Intermediate B B D C C
China Spring Middle B B C C B
China Spring High A A C B B
TAG B B N/R N/R N/R
OVERALL STUDENT
ACHIEVEMENT
ACADEMIC
GROWTH
RELATIVE
PERFORMANCE
CLOSING
THE GAPS
CONNALLY ISD B C F B C
Connally Early Childhood Center D N/R N/R N/R N/R
Connally Elementary F F F F F
Connally Primary D D N/R C F
Connally Junior High F F F D F
Connally High B C C B C
OVERALL STUDENT
ACHIEVEMENT
ACADEMIC
GROWTH
RELATIVE
PERFORMANCE
CLOSING
THE GAPS
LA VEGA ISD C C F C C
La Vega Elementary B C N/R B C
La Vega Intermediate C C F C D
La Vega Primary B N/R N/R N/R N/R
La Vega Junior High C C C B C
La Vega High C C F C D
OVERALL STUDENT
ACHIEVEMENT
ACADEMIC
GROWTH
RELATIVE
PERFORMANCE
CLOSING
THE GAPS
LORENA ISD A A B A A
Lorena Elementary B B C C C
Lorena Primary B N/R N/R N/R N/R
Lorena Middle B B C C B
Lorena High A A A B B
OVERALL STUDENT
ACHIEVEMENT
ACADEMIC
GROWTH
RELATIVE
PERFORMANCE
CLOSING
THE GAPS
McGREGOR ISD B B C A B
McGregor Elementary B C B B C
McGregor Primary B N/R N/R N/R N/R
Isbill Junior High C C F C F
McGregor High B B B B B
OVERALL STUDENT
ACHIEVEMENT
ACADEMIC
GROWTH
RELATIVE
PERFORMANCE
CLOSING
THE GAPS
MIDWAY ISD A A B A B
Castleman Creek Elementary C B C C C
Hewitt Elementary C C F B D
South Bosque Elementary A A B B A
Speegleville Elementary C C F C F
Spring Valley Elementary B A D B C
Woodway Elementary B A C B B
Midway Middle School B A B B B
River Valley Intermediate A A B A B
Woodgate Intermediate A A B A A
Midway High A A B B B
OVERALL STUDENT
ACHIEVEMENT
ACADEMIC
GROWTH
RELATIVE
PERFORMANCE
CLOSING
THE GAPS
ROBINSON ISD B A C B B
Robinson Elementary B B N/R C C
Robinson Intermediate B B D C C
Robinson Primary B N/R N/R N/R N/R
Robinson Junior High C B B D C
Robinson High B A B B B
OVERALL STUDENT
ACHIEVEMENT
ACADEMIC
GROWTH
RELATIVE
PERFORMANCE
CLOSING
THE GAPS
WEST ISD B B D B C
West Elementary C C C F D
West Middle C C D D D
West High B A C C B
OVERALL STUDENT
ACHIEVEMENT
ACADEMIC
GROWTH
RELATIVE
PERFORMANCE
CLOSING
THE GAPS
MARLIN ISD F F F D F
Marlin Elementary F F F F F
Marlin Middle F F F F F
Marlin High C D D C D

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Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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