Pasadena ISD decries group’s school rankings

June 15, 2017

Arguing that letter-grade ratings in Children At Risk’s 2017 school report card don’t give a fair picture of its students’ achievements, Pasadena ISD points to efforts to address the challenges of educating the district’s large number of at-risk youths.

Under Houston-based Children At Risk’s current guidelines, only 15 of PISD’s 45 elementary schools, three of its 10 middle schools and one of its five high schools rated above a C.

In the elementary category, five schools received an F - Williams, Richey, Jessup, DeZavala Middle and Keller Middle.

The nonprofit group did single out one district school, Jensen Elementary, led by Principal Judy Diaz, as a “Gold Ribbon” campus, a recognition which identifies schools that rank at an A or B and where more than 75 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. The school was ranked as a B minus.

Of the district’s high schools, Pasadena Memorial was rated as a B plus, Dobie received a C and Pasadena, Sam Rayburn and South Houston each received a D plus.

Pasadena ISD spokesman Art Del Barrio said the district’s stance on an A-F grading system used by Children At Risk as well as the Texas Education Agency is contained in a resolution approved earlier this year which states that such a system “creates a false impression about students, ignores the unique strengths of each school and unfairly reduces each student’s worth to the school’s assigned worth.”

This district is calling on the state legislature to repeal House Bill 2804, passed in 2015, which uses a A-F grading system that puts most of the weight upon state standardized tests. Children At Risk uses a similar system, although it states on its website that its criteria factors in economic breakdowns for each campus within a district.

PISD trustees, like the more than 300 districts throughout the state that passed similar resolutions, want lawmakers to allow districts to develop their own assessment system using customized curriculums which meet student needs.

In a statement following passage of the resolution, PISD superintendent DeeAnn Powell wrote that “the A through F grading system is not an accurate representation of the school district and our talented students, many of whom come from diverse backgrounds.”

“Our understanding right now is that they have looked at it further and there are going to be some changes, but they haven’t trickled down to the districts yet,” Del Barrio said.

Until the A-F system is used by the state in the fall of 2018, schools will continue to be graded on a pass or fail system.

The district is calling for a ranking method which takes into account more than standardized test scores or the percentage of students taking advanced placement classes.

According to district figures, 80 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches, a stark difference from neighboring districts like Pearland, which has a 28 percent rating for students receiving those lunches and Clear Creek ISD where that percentage is 22 percent.

“When a system gives you a comparison against other districts and campuses with the same percentage of economically disadvantaged (students),” Summers said, “that is what puts you on an ideal scale versus just taking it as flat rate without considering those other things.”

Among Pasadena ISD’s middle schools, Children At Risk gave Bondy the highest rating - B plus - and Park View the lowest, a D. Southmore and Jackson were rated as a B minus and Thompson, San Jacinto and Beverly Hills got a C plus. South Houston and Queens were rated a D plus.

In the elementary category, three campuses - South Belt, Meador and Moore - received As and Atkinson and Golden Acres each rated as A minus.

The PLC approach

Mindful of gaps in learning among students, the district uses the Professional Learning Community method, which fosters a collaborative system for educators to develop more individualized teaching tools to meets students’ needs, said Donna Summers, PISD’s director of research and evaluation.

“Literacy is our primary emphasis, especially in younger grades, to build that knowledge base and that foundation they may not have walking in the door and adding to it every year,” she said.

For districts with many students on the lower end of the economic spectrum, filling in holes in learning remains an ongoing challenge.

“You have a lot of kids coming into pre-K whose parents have never read to them and so they don’t even know their alphabet,” Del Barrio said.

Del Barrio, who taught math in the Rio Grande Valley, where a high percentage of his students were considered at-risk, says conscientious teachers look for ways to create equity in learning.

“Every teacher is going to have their way of identifying gaps and their own technique in filling them, and by identifying gaps and filling them, that’s how the district resolves the problems of economically disadvantaged children - and what these children have missed - and getting them caught up,” he said.

Regardless, he said, “You have kids in school that want to learn and are going to learn and teachers that are there every single day, rolling up their sleeves trying to figure out how they’re going to help that kid learn. As long as you have teachers out there giving it their all every day it doesn’t matter whether you are in an affluent district or a poorer district, those kids are going to learn. It’s up to the teacher to engage them.”

For more information about Children at Risk and its 2017 ratings, visit http://childrenatrisk.org. For the group’s comments on Jensen Elementary School, visit http://bit.ly/2rvjEL2.