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Longview ISD official disputes school's inclusion on state's low-performing list

By by Peggy Jones pljones@news-journal.com
Jan. 17, 2013 at 10 p.m.

Longview ISD's Foster Middle School, ranked as one of Texas' top 10 schools in UIL academic competition this past year, is included on a list of the state's poorest performing schools.

Foster is one of six Gregg County schools included on the Public Education Grant (PEG) list released this month by the Texas Education Agency.

A critic of the TEA's school accountability system pointed to the middle school's inclusion on the PEG list as evidence the system is flawed.

Rebeca Cooper, LISD director of planning, research and accountability, questioned the fairness of the rankings.

"...The issue with PEG is, once a school has been declared AU (academically unacceptable), it cannot be removed from the list for up to three years," she wrote. "So theoretically, it will be the 2015 list before all LISD schools can be off of the PEG list. You can have an exemplary campus on the PEG list because of performance issues three years ago."

Foster Middle School remained on the list although it was last deemed academically unacceptable in 2010. Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said Foster Middle received the dark mark because of its dropout rate in the 2008-09 school year, when 11 students there dropped out of school.

"The PEG list does not take into account our total program here at Foster Middle School," said school principal John York.

"Over the past few years, we have produced dozens of Duke University Scholars. Our math/science team placed in the top 10 in the state."

Foster is the gifted and talented magnet middle school for Longview ISD, and numerous parents cross surrounding district lines to bring their children to the campus, York said, as he defended the school's academic prowess.

"Today, we have 50 of our students participating in a Model UN academic competition at Stephen F. Austin State University. We have an excellent overall educational program at Foster Middle School," York said.

<strong>The exception</strong>

But Foster Middle School appears to be the exception. Every other Longview school on the PEG list was deemed academically unacceptable in 2011.

The other four Longview ISD campuses included on the 2013-14 PEG list include Longview High School, J.L. Everhart Magnet Elementary School, South Ward Elementary School and Ware Elementary School.

Two sub-groups of Longview High - black students and economically disadvantaged students - failed the math portion of the most recent Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, Culbertson said.

Pine Tree Intermediate School also was on the list, as were four Marshall ISD campuses, including Marshall High School, C.W. Carver Elementary, Marshall Junior High and William B. Travis Elementary School. Schools in Carthage, Gilmer, Jefferson, Karnack, West Rusk, Atlanta, DeKalb and Winfield also were included on the list of poorly performing schools.

"This list, effective for the 2013-2014 school year, identifies campuses at which 50 percent or less of the total students at a campus passed one or more portions of the TAKS exams or 50 percent or less passed either the reading or math portions of the STAAR exams in any two of the preceding three years or were rated academically unacceptable in 2010 or 2011 under the state accountability system," Culbertson said.

School districts have until Feb. 1 to notify parents that students who attend PEG list schools are eligible to transfer to a higher-performing school, taking their state funding with them. If a family elects to transfer a student because of its PEG listing, neither the school district they leave nor the school district to which they transfer has to offer transportation.

<strong>Accept or reject</strong>

A school district chosen by the student's parent can accept or reject the application, but it cannot reject the student's request using criteria that discriminates against the student based on race, ethnicity, academic achievement, athletic abilities, language proficiency, sex or socioeconomic status.

Despite the state-granted right for students to switch to a higher-performing school, few parents move their children based on the PEG listings, Culbertson said. This past year, 1,574 Texas students changed schools because of PEG listings, while 400,000 could have, she said.

Although transfer figures are not kept by Longview ISD, district spokesman Adam Holland said only a handful of parents had ever transferred their children because of a campus' PEG listing, and Cooper said a federal order precludes many Longview students from being able to transfer even if their school under performs.

"In Longview ISD, because of the desegregation order and the requirements from the Department of Justice, students are only allowed to transfer if they are moving from a campus where their race or ethnicity are in the majority to a campus where the race or ethnicity of the student is in the minority," Cooper said.

Holland said the district is in the process of taking action to improve student test performance on all campuses, aiming specifically at those on the list.

"Each campus identified on the PEG list has developed very specific strategies or interventions to meet the individual needs of their students," he said. The Campus Plan of Action identifying theses strategies or interventions were approved Monday by the board of trustees, he said.



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