LHISD earns ‘A’ rating for overall district performance


By Rachel Madison

Liberty Hill Independent School District administration is celebrating after learning the district has earned an A rating, with a score of 91 out of 100, from the Texas Education Agency for overall performance when it comes to three domains: student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps.

“This [rating] is such a great celebration for the work our students and staff do, as well as the unwavering support of our parents,” said Dr. Toni Hicks, LHISD assistant superintendent. “We are also excited because we are ranked number one in Williamson County for traditional districts (non-charters).”

In addition to being the top-rated district in Williamson County, LHISD also sits in the top 16 percent of traditional districts across the state. The grading system, which was put into place during the 2017 legislative session via House Bill 22, established three domains—student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps—to evaluate the academic performance of districts and campuses. It also required the commissioner to adopt rules to assign districts a rating of A, B, C, D or F for overall performance, as well as for performance in each domain.

Hicks added that after HB22 was passed, the TEA put together a model that marries the previous system, which rated schools with verbiage like “exemplary” and “unacceptable,” with the new system.

“Parents are familiar with the traditional system of grading from A to F, and this is a marriage of both worlds,” she said, adding that an A grade (a score of 90-100) now signifies exemplary performance, a B grade (a score of 80-89) signifies recognized performance, a C grade (a score of 70-79) signifies acceptable performance, a D grade (a score of 60-69) signifies a need for improvement, and an F grade (a score of 0-59) signifies unacceptable performance.

According to TEA, student achievement measures what students know and can do by the end of the year. It includes results from state assessments, such as AP and ACT results, and graduation rates. School progress measures how much better students are doing on the STAAR test this year versus last year, and how much better students are doing academically relative to schools with similar percentages of economically disadvantaged students. Closing the gaps looks at performance among student groups, including various racial and ethnic groups and socioeconomic backgrounds, according to the TEA.

Seventy percent of the accountability rating is based on the better score between student achievement or student progress. The other 30 percent is based on performance in the closing the gaps area, according to the TEA. While the overall performance rating in LHISD was an A grade, not every domain received an A.

The school progress domain received a B grade, with a score of 85 out of 100, and the closing the gaps domain also received a B grade, with a score of 88 out of 100. The student achievement domain received an A grade, with a score of 92 out of 100.

“We have areas we need to address as a district, but we’re at a good place to drill into that data to determine ways and specific methods to address areas that need improvement,” Hicks said. “We’ve got lots of great instruction happening across our district, and we want to celebrate that and find ways we can continue to strengthen that.”

While district ratings were based on the A-F scale, the 2018 rating labels for individual campuses continued under the Met Standard, Met Alternative Standard or Improvement Required labels from the previous rating system.

All six of LHISD’s campuses fell under the Met Standard distinction. By the numbers, Bill Burden Elementary received the lowest score of 77 out of 100, while Liberty Hill Junior High School received the highest score of 91 out of 100. Liberty Hill Elementary received a score of 81 out of 100; Liberty Hill Intermediate School received a score of 83 out of 100; Rancho Sienna Elementary received a score of 85 out of 100; and Liberty Hill High School received a score of 88 out of 100.

“We’ve talked with [LHJH Principal Annette] Coe to specifically celebrate the excellence and the work she’s done on her campus and talked to her about what she would attribute to that success, so we can share the system of what she’s doing so all campuses can benefit from it,” Hicks said. “The beauty of our district is we are still relatively small, so we can refine and hone in on effective systems as needs determine or culture determines. Each campus can then individually [tweak those systems] to reflect their specific campus culture. If there is a strategy another campus is using well, it behooves us to talk through that and replicate it for our other schools.”

Hicks said while the district has made strides in improving its overall score—it received a preliminary B grade in January 2017 before the new rating system was fully implemented—administration and staff are still focusing on making improvements to continually improve the district’s grades. One major area LHISD staff will be focusing on this year is writing at the elementary level, Hicks said.

“We need to strengthen our instruction in writing and how we monitor that,” she said. “We need to better equip our teachers in understanding what quality writing is and making that consistent across all three elementary campuses. We also want to make sure we’re putting that information in the hands of our students and parents. How are we practicing writing? How are we making sure students are writing with voice and intention?”

Hicks said another area of improvement for the district will be looking at what is being doing to ensure students have opportunities to certify in specific fields of study before they leave high school.

“We want that to be our goal for multiple reasons,” she said. “They’ll be better equipped for the work force. Whatever we can do to capture their interest so we can position them to be marketable right out of high school—that’s certainly a goal we have.”

Hicks added that teachers and principals alike are working together in groups to go through the data received from TEA to create a plan of action to address areas that need strengthening.

“Our ultimate goal is to have all of our kids achieving at high levels, and all means all,” Hicks said, adding that the annual rating from TEA is just one of the many systems used to rate the school district. “When you look at our district and see the whole picture, not only did we receive an A in academics, but we are also top three in the Lone Star Cup … and our financial rating is also an A. There is no question that Liberty Hill ISD is a district where excellence is happening.”

To view the 2018 state accountability ratings for LHISD in their entirety, visit txschools.org.