Bully Pulpit II
Jim Hightower Stages an On-Air Comeback
Consider the case of AISD's Zavala Elementary, which just four years ago was rated as "low performing" because of its scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). The school soon brought its scores up to a level deemed "acceptable" by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and has been climbing steadily upward since then. But now they're told their progress isn't good enough -- even though their achievement this year, in fact, exceeds TEA's own standards for receiving a special citation.
Earlier this month, when TEA released campus-by-campus TAAS scores, five AISD schools were rated "exemplary" for having a passing rate of at least 90%, and eight were "recognized" because 70% or more of the kids passed TAAS. All 13 of these celebrated schools, by the way, are located west of I-35 and have few, if any, low-income students. Zavala, with a majority of students living in public housing, was more than ready to be the first East Austin school to be "recognized" -- 81% of Zavala's kids passed reading this year, almost 77% passed math, and 93% passed the writing section of the TAAS. But a statistical blemish on Zavala's scorecard has put their well-earned accolade out of reach.
Why? It's complicated and Byzantine -- and it's where TEA, in the name of getting tough on Bubba, may just be outsmarting itself instead.
Here goes: Not only do 70% of all students have to pass all sections of the TAAS, 70% or more of each so-called subgroup (African-American, Hispanic, White, and Economically Disadvantaged) must also pass for the school to gain "recognized" status. No problem there -- all of Zavala's subgroups, too, made the grade. But a school must make continuous progress, as well. Not even a tiny dip in passing rates is allowed. Because the school's economically disadvantaged subgroup "slipped" in reading, from 81% passing last year to 79.8% this year, Zavala doesn't get "recognized."
Get it? Think that's fair? Neither does Zavala's former principal, Al Mindiz-Melton, now the principal of Webb Middle School. He fired off an August 2 missive to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Moses, protesting the slap at the school and appealing for redress of the situation. "We need accountability, and I support it," Melton told the Chronicle. "But we need a system that's easily understood and meaningful." Melton said that many schools deemed "recognized" not only do not have economically disadvantaged kids, they don't even have passing rates as high as Zavala's -- "and that is not fair."
Melton said that the Commissioner's office informed him that the school superintendent must be the one to request an appeal. But even though AISD Superintendent Jim Fox has expressed regret over the quandary Zavala finds itself in, he is not inclined to bounce Melton's appeal back to Moses. Through another district employee, Fox said, "There is no basis to appeal." Melton said he plans to be active during the 1997 legislative session and work to change the system that has been so punitive in Zavala's case.
At its regular meeting Monday, the AISD Board of Trustees took the next step in implementing the $369 million bond program and appointed a community bond oversight committee. Each of the nine trustees appointed one Austin resident, and the superintendent appointed six; the 15-member group will select its own chairperson at its first meeting in September. Among those named to serve are Austin First Lady Elizabeth Christian, who co-chaired a citizens' campaign to pass the bonds; Sue Johnson, director of District 5 of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District; and Pascual Piedfort, who served on the citizens' bond advisory committee.
Trustees approved new principals for Reagan High School and Reilly Elementary, as well as a host of assistant principals at 10 other schools. The board also set a public hearing on the proposed 1996-97 tax rate of $1.311 per $100 property valuation; it will be held at 6:30pm on Monday, September 9 at the Carruth Administration Center Auditorium, 1111 W. Sixth. The tax rate is scheduled to be adopted on September 23.
Fox reported to the board that AISD's stepped-up efforts to get students into school on time this year have been fruitful. Over 2,000 more kids enrolled in AISD during the first two weeks of the school year than last year, which will yield nearly $300,000 more in state funding. He said that as of Friday, August 23, enrollment was 75,698; total enrollment for 1996-97 is projected at 77,105.