Harlingen school district just shy of an A

HARLINGEN — The Harlingen school district scored just one point below an A this year.

The Accountability Ratings just released by the Texas Education Agency shows the district scored a 94 for “Closing the Gaps,” 91 on school progress, and 85 on student achievement. The combined score came out to a 92.

However, because one campus received less than a C on Closing the Gaps, the overall score was bumped down to an 89. Closing the Gaps assesses how special populations such as English language learners and special education students are performing.

The district explained that the school in question is KEYS Academy.

“Harlingen CISD created KEYS Academy as part of its continued commitment to addressing the needs of students at-risk of dropping out,” states a release from the school district.

“KEYS Academy allows children to complete their high school education in an environment outside of their primary high school campus,” states the release.

Incidentally, KEYS has helped the district reach a graduation rate of 92.3 percent, above the state average, the statement reads.

HCISD was one of only 71 school districts in the state to be awarded the post-secondary readiness distinction.

The Accountability Ratings reflect student performance on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness and other measures such as graduation rates and college, career and military readiness, the statement reads. School progress determines if students are demonstrating academic growth on the STAAR from year to year.

However, the debate over the correct evaluation of a district continues.

“These are arguments that districts across the state continue to make, that education is more than just about numbers and letter grades,” said Dr. Alicia Noyola, chief academic officer.

“We’re dealing with human beings and children’s futures,” she said. “To reduce it all to a letter or a number is so simplistic and it doesn’t really show everything that’s going on in public schools and schools in general.”

And so what is going on in the district the ratings don’t reflect?

For starters, the Harlingen school district just opened the World Languages Academy at Vernon Middle School. This year, more than 100 sixth graders will learn Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese or American Sign Language. The Harlingen Performing Arts Conservatory is offering master classes by noted professionals, the district is offering certifications in a variety of trade classes, and the pre-kindergarten and elementary grades are entering the second year of its Leveled Literacy Library reading program. Middle school students now have the option of focusing on the STEM subjects by attending STEM Squared Academy, for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Dishman Elementary has come a long way under the direction of Principal Irma Davis, and the school has now been named a Blue Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education. The district also has partnerships with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harlingen and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Elementary students can now enter international baccalaureate programs.

None of this is included in the Texas Accountability Ratings System.

“I think accountability is important,” Noyola said. “We should all be held accountable for what we produce. But when you narrow that to such a narrow scope and you base a district’s reputation and perception on that narrow scope, you’re giving a false impression.”

Students are more than just a “letter grade,” she said.

“Our first commitment is to our community and the things that our community expects from us,” she said. “Our community expects us to produce kids that are college and career ready, that they can function in our community, that they’re problem solvers. That’s what we’re going to focus on.”

Superintendent Art Cavazos extolled the school district’s successes.

“We are super proud of our graduation rate and continued focus on early childhood education” Cavazos said. “Our district’s focus on college and career readiness and our concentration in early childhood education is reflected in our overall score of a 92.”