Austin’s embattled Eastside Memorial High School has made state accountability for the first time since 2002. The Texas Education Agency published ratings for all campuses and districts in the state on Friday. Eastside has been under threat of closure since 2013. In order for the school to keep its doors open, administrators, teachers, staff, and students have worked to resuscitate failing test scores and close achievement gaps. The school’s quest was chronicled this spring in An Eastside Education, a digital documentary produced by KLRU.
In June 2013, Education Commissioner Michael Williams said Eastside could stay open, but gave school leaders and the Austin ISD School Board three years to make accountability or be shuttered for a year. They are now partnered with Johns Hopkins Talent Development Secondary, a contracted partner out of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Austin ISD Superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz expressed pride in Eastside’s ability to break through at a press conference Friday.
“The teachers, staff members, the leadership at the school, parents really focused on one thing and that’s student results and they stayed on it,” Dr. Cruz said. “They stayed on it to make sure that all kids would learn.”
He said he spoke with Eastside Principal Bryan Miller once the scores were announced.
“[Principal Miller] was elated,” Dr. Cruz said. “We look at preliminary indicators, we never know until the state puts out accountability results, but he was elated and now that it is here, he’ll be sharing it with his staff members as well.”
Throughout filming of An Eastside Education, teachers, staff, and administrators warned of the dangers in trying to predict a rating before results are announced. All were cautiously optimistic after STAAR test scores were returned in June but stressed the importance of waiting until August when the state makes ratings official.
111 out of AISD’s 124 schools made state accountability this school year, including all of the district’s high schools. That’s up from 109 last year. The state’s current accountability ratings are Met Standard, Met Alternative Standard, Not Rated, or Improvement Required. Eastside Memorial’s official rating before this year was Improvement Required. It is now Met Standard, the highest rating possible.
State accountability for each school in the state is based on four indexes: Student Achievement (or STAAR test scores), student progress from year to year, closing performance gaps between high and low performing students, and Postsecondary Readiness. Eastside has continuously been unable to meet standards on Index 4, Postsecondary Readiness. In previous years, the school met standards on each of the other indexes.
To meet the standard on Index 4, Eastside students needed to not only pass the end of course STAAR exams but also score well enough on the college-readiness scale to be “Level II Recommended.” This year they outperformed the state’s target scores in all of those indexes. The school earned an additional three of seven possible distinctions, including academic achievement in math.
A sticking point for many teachers and students at Eastside has been the so-called “choice policy,” which means that since Eastside has been rated a failing school parents can opt out of sending their child there in favor of a higher rated school. This has led to very low enrollment and, according to many on campus, a brain drain of smart kids leaving Eastside for other area high schools. Dr. Cruz said regardless of the new rating, that policy is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
“I don’t see a change [in the choice policy] for Eastside Memorial High School,” Dr. Cruz said. “We do have a choice policy around the district so I do see that we would continue that with the school. We have choice in all of our schools. It’s a little bit different [at Eastside] with transportation but some of our other schools have that as well. I do think it’s important for parents to choose schools, choose programs, and so that is something that we value as a district.”
The final chapter of An Eastside Education will be released September 1, 2015.
An Eastside Education is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. American Graduate is aimed at increasing awareness about factors that lead to dropout in Central Texas.