The number of Texas school districts rated by the state as academically unacceptable has increased to 87, the highest level ever, according to the Texas Education Agency, which attributed the change to tougher dropout reporting requirements.
But new growth projection measures helped more than double the numbers of both schools and districts labeled exemplary, the highest rating they can earn. The new measures give schools credit for projected student improvement even if test scores didn't meet standards.
The number of exemplary school districts rose from 43 last year to 117 this year.
School districts and campuses are rated based on student performance on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and a standardized test for special education students, along with dropout and completion rates. Schools receive ratings of exemplary, recognized, acceptable or unacceptable.
Most of the more than 1,200 school districts and charter operators in Texas -- 561 -- received an acceptable rating. Almost 460 were rated recognized.
"School districts were given two years to adjust to the use of a new, more rigorous dropout definition," Education Commissioner Robert Scott said. "Because districts are being held fully accountable for their dropouts, the new definition has resulted in lower ratings for some districts and schools."
More than half of the unacceptable districts, 48, received the low ranking solely because of dropout rates.
Nine school districts were rated unacceptable because of failure to meet standards on the state assessment test's science portion.
Last year, 32 districts were rated unacceptable.
Critics have argued that the new growth measure, which uses a mathematical formula called the Texas Projection Measure, artificially inflates the success of schools.
Frances Deviney, an analyst at the Austin-based Center for Public Priorities, said the new measure "does a disservice to the students and the schools by masking the true number of kids still struggling to meet the state's academic standards."
About 62 percent of the exemplary school districts were elevated as a result of the projection model. In individual student groups, the projection measure most applied to Hispanic and economically disadvantaged children on all portions of the test.
Scott defended the projection models, arguing that the projection measure is fair and that analysis shows a correlation of 90 percent or above between state predictions and actual student achievement.
"If you look at the TAKS results, the passing rates for those exemplary schools, you're going to find high-performing schools," Scott said. "You're going to find high completion rates and high performance across the board.
"I would not want to create a false impression, but we'll continue to monitor the data and if it doesn't bear it out we won't use it."
Click here for the entire report: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/account/2009/index.html