By Joshua Benton
Dallas students scored better than ever on this year’s Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, an improvement that could cut the number of schools with the state’s lowest rating by more than half, district officials said Thursday.
The turnaround also could double the number of Dallas schools that receive the state’s highest rating, meaning there could be 17 schools rated “exemplary” and 12 rated “low-performing” when accountability ratings are issued in August. That would be a reversal of last year, when there were a state-high 28 low-performing schools and only eight rated exemplary.
Although Dallas students still scored well below the state average and below students in most other area districts, the district is improving at a faster clip than the state average.
“This should show we’re serious about student achievement,” Superintendent Mike Moses said. “We’re going to be relentless, tenacious. We’re going to be after student gains every day that we have our doors open.”
Most districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area showed improvements on the TAAS that were similar to the statewide gains. The state’s passing rate on all tests improved from 80 percent to 82 percent this year.
Results from some area districts were not available.
In Allen, passing rates on the 10th-grade math test went up from 86 percent in 2000 to 94 percent in 2001. Gains were more modest for other grades.
“Our high school teachers targeted the math and getting those scores up,” Allen Superintendent Jenny Preston said.
The percentage of DISD students passing all sections of the TAAS increased from 59.9 percent last year to 66.2 percent in 2001. Reading and math tests are given to all students in grades three through eight and 10. Students in fourth, eighth and 10th grades also are tested in writing.
Still below average
Despite the improvement, Dr. Moses noted that DISD’s passing rates were still significantly below the state average.
“Obviously, there’s a degree of excitement, but we should be careful about celebrating,” he said. “It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go. It’s not time to declare victory.”
In Dallas, the increases were consistent in nearly every ethnic, racial and income group and on nearly all tests. The percentage of Hispanic students passing all three tests increased by 7.9 percent to 63.8 percent. The rate for black students went up 5.6 percent to 65.4 percent. White students’ passing rates increased 2.9 percent to 84.7 percent.
The rate for students classified as economically disadvantaged jumped 7.1 percent to 62.6 percent.
Reading proved to be the most difficult subject for DISD students, with 75.6 percent passing. On the writing test, 77.6 percent passed; 78.1 percent passed the math test.
Scores also improved on each section of the test for every group with the exception of white students’ rate on the writing test, which dropped slightly. The improvements reduced the performance difference between white and minority students in all categories.
“By just about every measure, we closed the achievement gap,” Dr. Moses said.
In addition to the expected increase in the number of exemplary schools, DISD also expects its number of schools rated “recognized,” the next highest level, to jump from 18 to 30.
A school’s accountability rating is determined by a variety of factors, including dropout and attendance rates, but TAAS performance is the largest component.
Dr. Moses said he had expected an overall gain of 3 percent or 4 percent, not the 6 percent gains the district scored. He also had hoped to reduce the number of low-performing schools by between five and seven, not by 16, which district officials now estimate, he said.
“I don’t know if we can do that every year, but I’m pleased, and it exceeded my expectations,” Dr. Moses said.
Three of the schools projected to be low-performing – Henderson, Medrano and Titche – are among the seven schools being run by the private education company Edison Schools Inc. Henderson and Titche were rated “acceptable” last year.
Two other Edison schools that were rated low-performing last year are expected to become acceptable. Two others are projected to be rated acceptable, the same as a year ago.
Dr. Moses said the performance of Edison schools was comparable to the district as a whole.
He noted that Medrano, though still considered low-performing, saw its scores go up remarkably.
Last year, 38.5 percent of students at Medrano passed the reading portion of TAAS and 49.4 percent passed the math test. Only 6.9 percent of fourth-graders passed the writing test. This year, the passage rates went up 25.5 percent in reading, 21.6 percent in math and 66.1 percent in writing.
“That’s the nice thing about accountability and testing,” Dr. Moses said. “People can measure and follow their school’s performance.”
Staff writer Katie Menzer contributed to this report.