Children at Risk is a non-partisan advocacy group that focuses on the needs of young people in Texas. Every year, they issue a report card for every public school in the state of Texas.
Since I am a college educator, I can offer the most insight on college preparation, so this column will focus on the four high schools in Goose Creek CISD.
IMPACT Early College earned an A, Lee earned a C-, Sterling earned a C-, and Memorial earned a D+. The percentage of low-income students served by each school is 60%, 76%, 58%, and 50%, respectively.
I threw in the latter data points because the strongest predictor of school success is the number of students who are economically disadvantaged. These students face challenges that most middle income families could not even imagine.
In contrast, look at Barbers Hill ISD. They received an A grade, which is definitely something to be proud of, but only 18% of their student body is economically disadvantaged. They have a built-in edge over high poverty school districts.
The most telling grade is IMPACT Early College. Even though 60% of their students are low income, they earned an A grade and are ranked as one of the best high schools in the entire Gulf Coast region.
Granted, IMPACT benefits from some selection bias. Highly motivated students and hard driving parents actively seek out IMPACT for the challenging, college-level course work. Slackers need not apply.
Still, you should not despair too much if your son or daughter attends one of the three schools with a mediocre grade. The data presented by Children at Risk is very general, and the methodology is flawed.
Four categories are used to determine the grades. The categories are overall student achievement, achievement of students in poverty, student growth/improvement over time, and college readiness.
That sounds like a reasonable measurement scheme, but categories 1-3 are partly based on student performance on the STAAR test, which is neither a reliable nor valid measure of student learning.
Category 4, college readiness, is also a dubious measure. It is heavily based on graduation rates, but graduating high school is not exactly a herculean task. My students have been telling me for years that earning a diploma is about as easy as falling out of bed.
The other component of the college readiness score is the number of students taking the ACT, SAT, and advanced placement (AP) exams. The score is not based on performance or achievement on the exams, just the number of students taking the exams.
Sounds like a participation trophy to me.
Only a small part of the college readiness score is based on actual performance on the AP, ACT or SAT. These college entrance exams are pretty good predictors of college readiness, but Children at Risk minimized their weight in their grading index.
In my 22 years at Lee College, I have taught many gifted graduates from area high schools, and I have taught some pretty lousy students from the same schools. I have average students who excel in the college environment, and I have gifted students who fall flat on their faces.
The student is the key variable, not the school.
Steve Showalter is a government professor at Lee College in Baytown.