Because they already have their eyes on the prize for next year, teachers and administrators at Bellaire High School had short celebrations this year when they learned the school’s state rating has advanced one level to “Recognized.”
“We were very excited and we have been really diligent in working with the 9th and 10th grade students for their TAKS exams,” said Bellaire High School Principal Tim Salem. “But the school year has started again. In essence in schools it doesn’t matter what you did last year, it’s what you do this year.”
For the past four years the Texas Education Agency considered Bellaire High as “Academically Acceptable,” so the fact the school has progressed to Recognized is quite significant for bragging rights.
“It means a lot. It’s a pride thing,” said TEA Spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman. “It doesn’t get them anything from our end of it, but it shows the community they’re doing a good job, not an adequate job, at educating students.”
Bellaire High School would still be considered Acceptable if it wasn’t for the Texas Projection Measure, a new TEA accountability standard that went into effect this year. In the past, even if most students performed at the Recognized level, a school’s rank would still be Acceptable if just one student group performed poorly on just one exam subject. The new Texas Projection Measure helps schools overcome that scenario.
“If they could show there was improvement from one year to the next despite the fact they didn’t clear that hurdle,” Marchman said. “That growth proves they’re not ignoring the needs of those students. They’re making progress.”
The TEA set the Bellaire High School’s accountability rating based on students’ performance on the annual Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, and the number of 9th graders who progressed all the way through high school to graduate in 2008. The school also earned five out of 14 Gold Standard Acknowledgements, in which the TEA considers whether students performed well above the state-required minimum.
In 2008, 730 Bellaire students graduated out of a total class of 786 students. This makes the school’s completion rate 93 percent, which is only two points away from the 95 percent needed for the highest rating, Exemplary. The Recognized designation requires that at least 75 percent of the class graduates.
Out of 2,360 total Bellaire students who took the TAKS test, 94 percent passed in reading, 96 percent passed in social studies, 80 percent passed the mathematics section and 85 percent passed the science exam. But the TEA rating is not based entirely upon the total student population, because the agency examines the performance of specific groups including African Americans, Hispanics, whites and economically disadvantaged students.
In order to be Recognized, at least 75 percent of students within each group must pass all sections of the TAKS. Not all groups reached the mark, but Bellaire High was able to become Recognized because of two accountability standards the TEA uses to evaluate schools.
Only 71 percent of African Americans passed the science portion of the TAKS, but that was enough to reach the “required improvement” standard in which the TEA considers whether there is enough improvement year-to-year to show that at least 75 percent of students should pass within the next two years.
These groups also didn’t reach the Recognized mark:
- 64 percent of African Americans passed mathematics
- 64 percent of Hispanics passed mathematics
- 67 percent of economically disadvantaged students passed mathematics
- 66 percent of Hispanics passed science
- 68 percent of economically disadvantaged students passed science
Bellaire High School was able to become Recognized anyway because of the Texas Projection Measure, which is an “estimate of whether a student is likely to pass a TAKS test in a future grade,” according to the TEA 2009 Accountability Manual.
“Those students were given special consideration for the growth they had made,” Salem said.
In another type of evaluation, the TEA awarded Bellaire High School with five out of 14 Gold Performance Acknowledgements for students reaching accomplishments beyond the state-required minimum.
“At Bellaire the focus on our classes every day is not the TAKS test,” Salem said. “I think a school should be about not just increasing minimum standards, but also stretch those far beyond minimum standards.”
The school was acknowledged as having college-ready graduates because at least 35 percent of students in all demographic groups scored high enough to reach a college-ready criteria on their TAKS English and math tests.
At least 30 percent of students in all groups had commended performances on their TAKS social studies exams, earning Bellaire High School another acknowledgement. The school was also commended for having 1,993 students who reached the top 25 percent on their TAKS reading tests.
Because at least 60 percent of students in all groups scored at least 2,200 points on their TAKS English and math exams, the school earned another acknowledgement.
There are several areas where Bellaire High School needs to improve to earn more Gold Performance Acknowledgements next year. The TEA ratings show that a low percentage of students earned commended performance TAKS scores in English, math and science. Low numbers enrolled in advanced and dual credit courses, and African American and Hispanic students are not getting commended scores on their SAT and ACT exams.
Salem said the school has ongoing tutorial programs to help these students progress to the next level. The focus is on improving math and science scores.
“We’re doing as much as we can for that preparation,” he said. “We will certainly make changes and increases in programs we have here to maintain and increase the state rating.”