The first report cards on area schools were issued Tuesday, as Texas education nonprofit Children at Risk (CAR) released its 2019 Texas School Guide with state and regional rankings of public and charter schools.
Based on data compiled during the 2017-18 school year, the TSG issued “A” through “F” grades to 8,032 schools across the state to analyze the current quality of public education by identifying trends and schools, districts and regions that go “above and beyond expectations.”
The study included districts in five of the state’s geographic sub-regions — Austin, Houston, North Texas, San Antonio and Rio Grande Valley. New Braunfels and Comal independent school districts were included in San Antonio regional rankings of 75 high schools, 148 middle schools and 351 elementary schools in Atascosa, Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe and Medina counties.
“Overall, New Braunfels ISD and Comal ISD are two of the best districts in the region,” said Kellie O’Quinn, research director for Children at Risk’s Center for Social Measurement and Evaluation. “We looked at the breakdown of A-F schools in districts with at least seven schools in the region, and both far outperformed similar districts, with 83% of NBISD schools and 78% of Comal ISD schools receiving grades of “A” or “B.”
Top area schools
This year, five Comal ISD schools ranked among TSG’s regional top 10 in their respective categories: Memorial Early College High School (“A”/sixth); Smithson Valley Middle School (“A”/ninth); and Hoffman Lane (“A+”/third); Timberwood Park (“A”/eighth) and Rahe Bulverde (“A”/ninth) elementary schools.
NBISD’s top-ranked regional schools, by category, were Seele Elementary School (“B+”/27th); Oak Run Middle School (“B+”/25th) and New Braunfels High School (“B-”/30th) – its highest TSG rating in years.
In 2017 the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which oversees and annually evaluates the state’s public schools, assigned both local districts “Met Standard” ratings for meeting state requirements in yardsticks measuring academic achievement, overall progress, closing performance gaps and postsecondary readiness programs.
TEA began assigning “A” through “F” grades to districts in 2018 – with both local districts receiving “Bs” – and its 2018-19 assessments, for the first time, will assign grades to individual campuses.
TSG’s annual reviews have long shared aspects of TEA assessment formulas. Both rely on data from State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) and year-ending course examinations; both gauge student achievement, campus performance and academic growth, along with secondary College, Career and Military Readiness (CCMR) programs.
TSG’s formula assigns a combined 70 percent for student achievement based on STAAR performance; CCMR programs and high school graduation rates – and school progress based on STAAR results compared to campuses with similar poverty levels. The remaining 30 percent is “Closing the Gaps,” which compares like performances by like demographic groups in all categories.
“For elementary schools we equally weigh the three indices (student achievement, campus performance, and growth) at one-third each,” O’Quinn said. “For high schools we equally weigh student achievement, campus performance, growth, and college readiness at one-fourth each.
“One of the primary differences (from TEA) is that we look at all the indices we’ve identified equally,” she added. “TEA takes the best of student achievement, or student growth – and it’s possible to do well in one but not the other – which makes up 70% of their grade. It also begins awarding credit for STAAR at ‘approaches’ grade-level (performance), while we only give credit at ‘meets’ and ‘masters’ levels.”
While TSG employs parts of TEA’s academic and testing data, its formula gives more weight to programs that enhance year-to-year growth for economically disadvantaged and at-risk students. TSG’s rankings also depend on campuses with complete TEA data profiles for each of the indicators included in its analysis.
Because TEA doesn’t list data in categories with fewer than five cases, TSG substitutes scores for masked values in some areas – and that also leads to differences between its scores and TEA computations of graduation rates, homeschooling rates, and other factors.
Giving credit where it’s due
TSG’s 2018 assessments, based on 2016-17 school year data, inaccurately figured ninth-grade data from New Braunfels High School’s Ninth Grade Center, which differs from most Texas middle schools because it educates grades 6-9 instead of grades 6-8.
The New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung reported the assessment omitted English I and English II performance scores at the high school that in turn led to incorrect assessments of New Braunfels High School. NBHS, containing grades 10-12, received respective grades of “D,” “D-minus,” and “F” in TSG reports released in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
TSG corrected the error and upgraded NBHS from an “F” to a “C-minus” in its 2018 report but has yet to correct grades issued in previous years. Patrick Gill, associate director of CAR’s Research Center for Social Measurement and Evaluation, said its process of evaluating data was tweaked since last year.
“Students who take Algebra I or similar subjects in eighth or ninth grade is now credited to the high schools, not at the middle school levels,” he said, crediting David McClendon, who formerly held his position, for making the change. “He noticed there were several schools around the state with ninth-grade centers like New Braunfels.’ Any kids attending those schools will have their credits shifted to the connected high schools.”
Statewide, regional grades
TSG’s 2019 report says more than half of Texas public school students live in economically disadvantaged circumstances and nearly one in five are classified as English Language Learners.
“Overall, there are more ‘A’ and ‘B’ schools than ‘D’ or ‘F’ schools, but there is still room for significant improvement,” the report said. “The proportion of elementary schools (of the former) has steadily increased in recent years, while (the latter) has gone down. High schools saw a dramatic increase in ‘A’ and ‘B’ schools this year, and middle schools have seen similar trends since 2016.”
TSG reported Rio Grande Valley schools were the most successful, with 56% assigned “A-B” designations despite serving economically disadvantaged student populations. The San Antonio region, with 35% of schools at A-B levels, was last among the five regions rated in the 2019 survey, and the slowest to improve over last year’s percentages of “D-F” campuses.
Individual campuses were noted for their success in managing highly mobile student populations, such as Comal ISD’s Canyon Lake High and Mountain Valley Elementary schools.
Neither local district placed in TSG’s top 10 statewide rankings of elementary, middle and secondary school rankings, nor received Gold Ribbon distinction for having 75% or more of economically disadvantaged students in schools that received “A” or “B” rankings.
Still, both New Braunfels and Comal ISDs outperformed most others regionally and statewide.
“You’ll see that the next closest district was Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD, which had 60% of schools receiving an ‘A’ or ‘B,’ outperforming the majority of other districts in the (San Antonio) region, where less than one-fourth of schools in each district were ‘A’ or ‘B’ schools,” O’Quinn said.