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Most Houston-area school districts eligible for Harvey waiver, TEA says

August 2, 2018

The vast majority of Houston-area school districts will be eligible for academic accountability waivers this year due to Hurricane Harvey, meaning they will be labeled “not rated” unless they score an “A” grade for excellence, the Texas Education Agency announced Wednesday.

The list of waiver-eligible districts includes 19 of the region’s 25 largest school districts. The six exceptions: Conroe, Klein, Pearland, Tomball, New Caney and Magnolia independent school districts. About 110 school districts were deemed eligible for waivers statewide, stretching from Port Aransas to Houston to Beaumont.

TEA officials on Wednesday also released the full list of roughly 1,200 Houston-area schools that will be eligible for campus-level accountability waivers, which will preclude them from receiving an “improvement required” label this year. The list, as expected, includes six Houston ISD campuses that would have triggered major state sanctions had any one received an “improvement required” rating this year. Four other HISD schools that could trigger sanctions this year are not among the waiver-eligible campuses.

Academic accountability ratings often are used as a metric for gauging the quality of districts and schools. The TEA also uses the ratings as the basis for intervening in underperforming regions. TEA leaders previously had released the criteria for determining whether districts and campuses were eligible for Harvey-related waivers, but they had not named those receiving exemptions.

Most Houston-area districts likely will not receive a letter grade for academic performance in 2018, the first year of the state’s new “A”-through-”F” accountability system, after qualifying for waivers. In previous years, districts were labeled “met standard” or “improvement required.” Campuses still will receive those two ratings in 2018, with the “A”-through-”F” system extending to schools in 2019.

In some districts, including those closed for 10 days or more due to Harvey, every campus also will be exempt from receiving an “improvement required” rating. Those districts include Alief, Fort Bend, Katy, Pasadena and Spring.

In other areas, the district and some — but not all — campuses will be eligible for accountability waivers. In Houston ISD, for example, 185 out of 285 campuses are waiver-eligible.

Linda Macias, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD’s associate superintendent for curriculum, instruction and accountability, said a preliminary analysis of accountability data showed the district would have received a “B” rating this year. She said the district has not protested potentially receiving a “not rated” label, in part because the underlying scores that contributed to the “B” rating still will be publicly available.

“We didn’t focus on the waiver because we didn’t know if it was going to happen or not,” Macias said. “What we focused on was making sure we provided quality instruction and we were monitoring and assessing any gaps our students might have had because they missed nine days of instruction.”

Nearly half of Cypress-Fairbanks ISD’s 84 schools are eligible for a campus waiver, but Macias said the district expects all of its schools to meet standard this year.

To receive a district waiver, all schools within the district had to be eligible for a campus-level waiver or at least 10 percent of students must have attended schools eligible for a waiver.

To get a campus waiver, the school must have met one of four criteria tied to days of instruction missed, relocation of the campus, the percentage of displaced students and percentage of teachers made homeless by Harvey.

Klein ISD Superintendent Bret Champion said he believed any district that lost instructional time due to Harvey should receive an exemption. Klein ISD closed for seven days after Harvey, with one of its 53 campuses shuttered for the entire school year due to storm damage.

“There wasn’t a soul who wasn’t impacted by Harvey is some way, shape or form,” Champion said.

In an interview in June, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said the waiver criteria mirrored the threshold set after Hurricane Ike in 2008, with some additional factors added.

“I think that given the totality of the impact of the storm, we had to set a threshold that was fairly low in terms of the degree of impact,” Morath said then.

jacob.carpenter@chron.com

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