Duncanville began this school year as the only large North Texas district that got the label of “improvement required” under a new statewide school rating system.
District Superintendent Alfred Ray claims the rating is unfair but the state’s education commissioner is defending the numbers.
There’s a lot of Panther pride at Duncanville High school.
Freshman Mahlia Miller says that applies to the volleyball team where she competes and the classroom where she excels.
“We work hard and we don’t quit. We fight we fight we fight,” Mahlia said.
Which is why Mahlia is disturbed that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has slapped her school and district with the designation “improvement required,” which is another way of saying it’s unsatisfactory.
Only 9 percent of 1,025 Texas school districts were given that scarlet letter. All the rest were told they “met standard’.
Mahlia has always felt good about the education she’s getting so the rating bothers her.
“It does because I want to go to a good school that will give me a good education. I’m really into athletics, but also Duncanville is a really good school for the academics,” she said
But the state sees problems. Not so much in the elementary and middle schools, but at the high school.
Students there hit the mark in three of four areas which are mostly measured by test scores- overall achievement, student progress and closing the performance gap between mainstream students and those who are poor or disadvantaged.
However, when the state looked at whether graduating students are ready for college or a career it said Duncanville didn't measure up.
“I don’t think their (the TEA's) system is valid. That’s the first thing I can say,” Superintendent Alfred Ray told KERA in an interview.
Superintendent Alfred Ray says the state’s rating system unfairly penalized Duncanville because a large number of students enrolled in a less difficult series of courses, what’s called the minimum high school plan.
That’s a plan that allows students to graduate with fewer credit hours and no foreign language. They don’t have to take as many high level courses in math, science and English.
Superintendent Ray claims the education agency is thumbing its nose at career and technology students because they chose other electives that will help them find jobs.
“We have many in our health, science technology programs who are in different careers like nursing and dental assistants. We have students who are going on to be surveyors right out of high school. They make $50,000 a year as a 19-year old. Automotive technology, body repair many other programs where our kids are going to go straight to the workforce and be very successful and productive citizens which we believe is the purpose of public school,” said Ray.
“They’re trying to say that’s not valuable,” he said of the TEA.
Not exactly. What Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams is saying is that Duncanville hasn’t followed state policy.
“What the legislature said is that the minimum plan is for those youngsters who are truly struggling-that youngster for whom we need to find some kind of special service,” said Williams.
“I don’t think the legislature ever contemplated that as much as 40 percent of the high school students would be graduating under the minimum plan,” he said.
According to the Texas Education Agency 40 percent is the number of Duncanville students in 2012 who graduated under the less rigorous minimum plan. That’s double the statewide average of 20 percent who received diplomas under that plan which can be used only after students get permission from their parents and school counselors.
Williams says Duncanville’s excessive use of the minimum plan ignores state policy.
“It was the policy of the state that we are trying to get kids ready to go to college because it was our belief that we could prepare every kid to go to college. Clearly Duncanville had a different policy.”
Duncanville’s state senator, Royce West says he wants to make sure the district isn’t promoting “education light.” His ties to the schools run deep
“As a state senator who sits on the education committee I’m very concerned. That the school district I chose to have my children attend and they have chosen to have their children attend has not met the acceptable standard is very concerning,” said West.
But West also questions the state’s rating formula.
“Frankly I don’t understand the TEA’s grading, the weighting of some kids graduating with a minimum degree as opposed to a recognized degree,” said West.
West plans to take up his concerns with Commissioner Williams while the district writes an improvement plan the commissioner wants on his desk in September.
Meanwhile, Duncanville students like Chandler Allen are giving their district the benefit of the doubt
“I feel pretty good about the school,” he said as he explained his goals: “To become a chef and get all A’s this year.”
Chandler, by the way, is taking the higher level courses as well as Duncanville’s culinary classes.
He believes it’s possible to get a classic education and still be part of the career program that will take him where he wants to go.