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Published in Print: September 3, 2003, as Houston Escapes Lowered Rating Over Dropout Errors

Houston Escapes Lowered Rating Over Dropout Errors

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Although the Houston school district's accountability rating won't be lowered, it faces other penalties as a result of its poor record-keeping for tracking the number of dropouts.

The Texas Education Agency decided last month to give the 211,000-student district the special accountability rating of "academically acceptable: special accreditation investigation," according to Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, the director of communications for the agency.

Earlier this year, an investigative team from the TEA recommended that the state lower the district's accountability rating to "academically unacceptable" after finding incomplete files for nearly 3,000 students who had left school during the 2001- 01 school year. Those files contained incorrect "leaver codes," which are used to explain why a student is no longer attending a school.

In response to the team's recommendation, Kaye Stripling, the superintendent of the Houston schools, requested that the state appoint a monitor to help the district revamp its data-collection system. She also requested that the TEA consider lowering the accountability ratings of only the schools that were shown to have faulty data. ("Houston Faces Questions on Dropout Data," July 9, 2003.)

As a result, the TEA decided to "not penalize the district, but come up with a plan that would improve the data and reporting in the long run," Ms. Ratcliffe said.

That plan includes assigning the monitor the school district requested. Marvin Crawford, a former superintendent of the 40,000-student Oklahoma City district, will work with the Houston schools to draw up a clear plan for how student data are collected and tracked, according to Ms. Ratcliffe.

Schools Penalized

The district's new accountability rating—which will be raised or lowered in six months, depending on how well the data problems are addressed—will signal to other Texas educators that there were serious problems in the district that are now being addressed, Ms. Ratcliffe said.

In addition, the individual accountability ratings of 15 of the district's 306 schools will be lowered.

"That decision says clearly to us that we must work hard to make sure those data-quality problems at those 15 schools do not resurface," Superintendent Stripling said in a statement.

The leadership at Sharpstown High School—the school at the center of the storm over dropout numbers—will be changed at the request of the state education agency. It was there that the record-keeping errors were first uncovered. The district will continue to investigate the school, Ms. Stripling said.

Vol. 23, Issue 1, Page 5

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