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20110805_IMG_0648_PRLA JOYA – The last time La Joya Independent School District (LJISD) received a recognized status from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for their test scores was in 2001. After 10 years, the district has finally received what they have been trying so hard to achieve – a recognized status for the district.

Last year, one elementary received an “unacceptable” rating from TEA, six elementaries received “exemplary” status, and Palmview High School, six middle schools and 11 elementaries received “recognized” status.

This year, the College Transition Academy was the only La Joya school to receive an exemplary status. Eighteen campuses again received a recognized status and 16 were labeled as academically acceptable, compared to just seven campuses rated “acceptable” last year.

Most school districts in the Valley dipped in their academic ratings this year because of changes made to the rating system.

“Increasing standards and the elimination of the Texas Projection Measure (TPM) resulted in fewer schools and districts earning an exemplary accountability rating in 2011,” says TEA’s website.

The number of exemplary districts statewide fell from 241 in 2010 to 61 this year. The number of campuses earning exemplary also dropped to 1,224 compared to 2,637 schools receiving the coveted status last year.

The number of districts and campuses receiving the academically unacceptable ratings increased this year also. TEA’s website says that only 37 districts received the unacceptable rating last year compared to 88 this year. While 104 campuses received the unacceptable rating last year, 569 received that status this year. Only 53.3 percent of Texas schools received an academically acceptable rating.

So what was so different with La Joya? They had a little bit of help and motivation.

20110805_LJISD_PressConference_RecognizedStatus_CAB_0029With the unacceptable rating received last year, LJISD was able to take advantage of some help from TEA. A TEA representative came to the district and identified areas where improvement needed to be made and helped the school make those adjustments.

Superintendent Dr. Alda T. Benavides said there were several changes made this year including assigning someone to oversee three areas, a designated area that fed into each high school. Each area manager was accountable for their area and keeping track of the progress made at each campus. That individual met with staff in their area on a weekly basis to review grades and test scores to find where the strengths and weaknesses were and if there were any students that needed extra help.

Benavides said she did this so they could find the right interventions to put in place right away instead of waiting every six weeks to take action. Students’ progress was monitored every week through benchmarks, reading inventory, and other tests to identify areas where they needed help.

She said it was good having TEA around to give an outside view of what was going on within the district and on the campuses that needed help.

“We may think that we’re doing everything that we needed to do, but they may be able to see it from a different perspective,” said Benavides, adding that the individual helping them had experience as a principal. “It was a positive thing.”

“Anything that we learned, we went and shared it,” Benavides said about what she and staff learned from having the TEA representative at the campus.

She said she was able to implement things taught by the TEA in other schools as well, not just the school that needed the most help.

During the last year, the district has also put a bigger emphasis on their dropout rate. Businesses, residents and staff have worked together to cut down the school district’s drop out rate. Their mission is to keep kids in school to make sure all eligible students in the district receive an education.

TEA’s rating for recognized is an 85 percent completion rate. LJISD had an 88.2 percent completion rate for the year.

To celebrate receiving the recognized status, the school district invited principals, State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, State Representative Sergio Munoz Jr., and board members to share some time together and recognize the district’s achievement.

During the event, LJISD Board President Irene M. Garcia said the district knew they had to make tough decisions to get where they are today and achieve this status. She said she was as proud as a peacock that the district was recognized.

Garcia continued, saying the students are their responsibility. That the students are their mission.

“Something happened, that needs to happen again,” she said about achieving this status for 2011.

Garcia said parents expect their kids to learn. “They send them so we can teach them.”

Sen. Hinojosa said this accomplishment makes the district better able to compete with the area, and the students ready to compete statewide and throughout the nation.

Rep. Muñoz hinted at the same thing by saying that these students succeeding in La Joya is not only a betterment for the community, but also for the state.

All members agreed that these scores were only achievable through the hard work and dedication by the teachers and principals of the campuses in the district.

One reason TEA gives for the changes is that a new test to be used next year is going to be tougher and have a different rating system. The ratings the school districts and campuses received this year will remain for two years until the new system is implemented.

Besides the elimination of the TPM, the TEA also included some other items in this year’s ratings. The ratings included additional results for students receiving special education services that were tested on modified or alternate assessments, the inclusion of an assessment that measures a student’s English reading proficiency and progress, and increasing the TAKS indicator standards for the academically acceptable rating by five points for mathematics and science. The TEA also added a new commended performance indicator and an increase in the rigor of the annual dropout rate for grades seven through eight from 1.8 percent to 1.6 percent for the recognized and exemplary rating categories.

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