HISD granted 6 months to improve record keeping
Aug. 8, 2003
State agency lowers ratings at 15 schools
By JO ANN ZUŅIGA
The Houston Independent School District has gotten a reprieve.
After threatening two months ago to lower the district's rating, the Texas Education Agency opted Thursday to give the district six months to improve its record keeping -- namely the dropouts it counts each year -- or face further sanctions.
TEA's largess, however, did not extend to 15 Houston schools whose ratings were lowered Thursday. The state agency came down hardest on Sharpstown High School, not only lowering its rating, but also demanding changes in management at the school, which has become the example for all that is wrong in the district's bookkeeping.
"I am suspending the current accountability rating for Houston ISD for the next six months while I review reports submitted by the monitor and consult with agency staff members regarding the progress of the district in resolving data deficiencies," said TEA Chief Deputy Commissioner Robert Scott in a letter dated Aug. 7 to HISD.
While still being considered "academically acceptable," HISD will have the title "Special Accreditation Investigation" added to its rating for the next six months, said HISD Superintendent Kaye Stripling.
"The commissioner's decision not to lower HISD's accountability rating is an important one, and we appreciate that careful review," Stripling said.
TEA sent an investigative team to Houston in March after receiving a complaint about tampering with school data. The team examined 5,458 student folders at 12 selected high schools and four middle schools.
For 2,999 of those folders, documentation was insufficient or miscoded and the team revised the code to reflect student dropouts.
The doctoring was most flagrant at Sharpstown, where, according to an HISD report, the dropout records for 30 students were intentionally changed to improve the school's dropout rate.
Stripling said Thursday she agrees with TEA's demand to "reconstitute" the leadership staff at Sharpstown High School.
"We agree and we are replacing the entire top leadership of the school," Stripling said.
The principal at Sharpstown has already retired and HISD reassigned an assistant principal during the investigation into the school's changed dropout reports.
Sharpstown High School Parent-Teacher Organization board member Elizabeth Bagby Schooler said members and students have been disappointed over the bad publicity, but new administrative changes will bring a positive attitude.
"I've always been proud of Sharpstown. Now we're having a whole new administration and they're saying things will get better," Schooler said.
TEA did acknowledge that HISD had taken positive steps, including an expanded program for accurately collecting data and additional training for staff. The agency also applauded HISD's selection of five-member dropout teams established at each campus to investigate and document dropout data.
To make sure these changes continue, Scott told the district the TEA will dispatch a monitor to review student dropout data and report on the district's activities and progress. The district must also hire an external consultant to look at problems with data collection.
Stripling reassured Houstonians that this review is not about the district's academic achievements.
"This review strictly is about the quality of data at some schools concerning the dropout rate," she said.
While the district's appeal for more time may have been heeded by the TEA, one principal's pleading for leniency was ignored.
Furr High School principal Bertie Simmons said she appealed the lowering of her school's rating saying the staff was only given a few hours to gather two-year-old documents.
"We had proof and needed time to find the GED information. Those students were not dropouts," Simmons said.
On Thursday, Furr's rating dropped from recognized to low performing.
Chronicle reporter Stephanie Weintraub contributed to this story. Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle