In districts across Texas, anxiety levels rose Friday, July 30, when the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the 2010 accountability ratings for districts and individual schools within those districts. Some districts celebrated, while others scrambled to explain why their scores dropped.

Let’s go over the basics of the accountability system. First, it’s important to know that districts are rated by the federal government and the state government, and in true bureaucratic form, they use different accountability systems. The acronym-to-know for the federal government is AYP, which stands for Adequate Yearly Progress. School districts must show that their students have made an established rate of progress from one year to the next. Each year, the stakes rise.

The state accountability report card has four levels: Exemplary, Recognized, Academically Acceptable and Academically Unacceptable. To see the criteria for each designation, go to http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/account/2010/manual/table6.pdf.

When you look at the accountability ratings, you will notice “TPM” next to some schools’ ratings. TPM stands for Texas Projection Measure. Approved by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009, the TPM allows districts in Texas to track student achievement on the TAKS over time. Schools and districts can now receive credit toward their accountability rating for students who did not meet the standards on the current TAKS test but who are projected to pass in the next “high stakes” year. (Grades 5, 8 and 11 are deemed “high stakes years” because they determine if a student can proceed from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school.)

To get a visual picture of the power of TPM, I read a report that the state re-calculated the 2008 (before TPM) AYP for all districts and schools in the state, merely to show the difference it can make. Originally, 66 percent of districts and 75 percent of campuses met the federal AYP standards. After applying the TPM, they found that 77 percent of districts and 80 percent of campuses would have met AYP.

I know students have bad days and that other variables often play into this high-stakes one-test-determines-your-rating game, but I haven’t quite accepted the validity of “projecting” that a student will pass in a subsequent year. It is important to note that the TPM can elevate the rating no more than one level, but I wonder how much number magic is used. Rising from Recognized to Exemplary doesn’t bother me, personally, as much as the thought that an Academically Unacceptable campus could use the TPM to jump into the Academically Acceptable category.

When looking at the scores, you will also see “RI” and “EP” next to some schools and districts. RI stands for Required Improvement and it compares a campus’ or district’s prior-year performance to the current-year performance. It indicates actual performance gains by the campus or district rather than a projection of improvement. EP stands for Exceptions Provision, and it allows districts to use specific exceptions when a single measure prevents a school or the district from reaching a higher rating. The area where the exception is used must be addressed within one year and the exception can only be used if the actual performance is “very close” to the standard.

To see the ratings for any school or district in Texas, go to http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/account/2010/index.html. In Hidalgo County, two districts earned an Exemplary rating, IDEA Public Schools and Monte Alto. Nine districts earned Recognized status. Two of those, Sharyland and Valley View, did so without using TPM or RI. Eight districts earned an Academically Acceptable Rating and one, Edcouch-Elsa, earned an Academically Unacceptable Rating.

Now that the final scores are in, the game plan for the 2011 ratings is already being developed.

Chris Ardis is beginning her 27th year of teaching, 26 of those with McAllen ISD. You can visit her web site at chrisardis.com for more information on this topic and others.