Houston ISD trustees ask district to appeal Wheatley High School rating

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In a 7-1 vote, the Houston ISD board of education instructed the administration to appeal the state’s accountability rating for Wheatley High School, whose results this year could require intervention by the Texas Education Agency.

The call came against repeated statements by HISD administrators at the Sept. 5 agenda review meeting that the district had searched for and exhausted all possible grounds for an effective appeal.

“We have looked very deeply and very closely at all the data for Wheatley … since May,” said Carla Stevens, assistant superintendent for research and accountability. “We can’t appeal if you don’t like the model. You can’t appeal if we’re just really close.”

Chapter 8 of the TEA’s accountability manual reads: “requests for exceptions to the rules for a district, charter school, or campus are viewed unfavorably and will most likely be denied.”

HISD officials said the state’s policies on appeals suggest a rating would likely only be changed if data errors that occur on the state’s side result in an inaccurate rating. But trustees said Hurricane Harvey, which allowed the district to receive a ratings reprieve last year, still had an effect on this year’s calculations.

“For high schools in the current A to F rating system, half of your data each year is this year’s data … and then half of it is how your seniors did in the previous year in 2018,” trustee Anne Sung said. “And if remember, in 2017-18 we had a hurricane here in Houston.”

Wheatley High School, located in the Fifth Ward/Denver Harbor area of northeast Houston, has been closely watched as it has been unable to meet standards for seven consecutive years, according to the TEA.

On Sept. 3, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath formally notified the district and the board of education that under a state law that took effect in 2015, he was obligated to either order the campus to be closed or appoint a board of managers to replace the trustees.

“Appeals are data-driven and rule-driven, not emotion-driven. … This appeal should not be filed for us, the grown ups, to not be taken over. It should be about student accountability,” said trustee Jolanda Jones, the only vote against the measure.

Board President Diana Davila said the board has nothing to lose by filing an appeal.

“I don’t understand what other sanction could possibly come,” Davila said. “We’re already at the end of the rope, as some would say it, so I’m not afraid to keep going if it has to be for kids.”

The TEA letter stated that any appeals would be resolved by December, when the ratings become finalized. The deadline for an appeal to be considered by the TEA is 5 p.m. Sept. 13, and all appeals are considered by an independent review board, which recommends actions to the commissioner, according to the TEA.

The HISD board next meets Sept. 12.

The district declined to comment further on the appeals process.

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Matt Dulin
Matt joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2018 and is the City Editor for Houston's Inner Loop editions.
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