THANK YOU FOR LETTING ALL OF TEXAS know what I’ve known for years—that Roy Guess Elementary in Beaumont is a four-star school [“Our Best Schools,” November 1996]. I’ve been happy with our son’s educational environment at Guess, from the teachers and other staff to the building itself. Note that the only other Beaumont elementary school to receive four stars is run by principal Shirley Bonton, who was an assistant principal at Guess until a few years ago. That says a lot for Roy Guess principal Hoyt Simmons and the leadership he provides his employees as well as his students.
OUR SCHOOL WAS SO EXCITED about receiving the four-star rating. We have worked hard to build a foundation where learning is the top priority. Stephens Elementary is a child-centered environment in which children learn and grow surrounded by people who support and care about their needs. Not only is Stephens Elementary a four-star school but it also was recognized with a Texas Migrant School Award.
Michael Richey, Principal
Brenda Fuller, Star Committee
THE WINICK-TOENJES SYSTEM using percentages of children who pass all sections of the Texas Assessment of Aca-demic Skills (TAAS) test and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students is an equitable way of rating schools. Our district research of test scores confirms that ethnicity is not the determining factor in TAAS success but rather the economic background of test takers.
Director of Testing, Brazosport Public Schools
I DISAGREE THAT WE CAN compare schools because of TAAS statistics. Yes, if everyone followed the strict guidelines for administering the test, I would agree with you, but they don’t. Cheating exists all over the state, and until that is eliminated, you cannot compare schools fairly. There are some schools that work only on TAAS review materials from January to the examination date. I believe that students deserve a better curriculum than that. Plus, they do not deserve all the pressure that the TAAS and their schools place on them. Texas is also considering using TAAS results as part of teacher evaluations. If that happens, students will definitely have more pressure to “perform,” a well-balanced curriculum will be nonexistent, and more cheating will occur.
Principal, Tatom Elementary School, Monahans
WHILE I RESPECT THE WORK OF MR. Winick and Mr. Toenjes, their star system does not answer the question, Is my kid’s school just average or pretty good or excellent? as you suggest. Any system based on TAAS scores can tell you only how many children are meeting “minimum” requirements in a limited number of subjects. That’s important, but few parents would consider minimum com- petency as “excellence,” even if it is achieved by every student in the school. A school that provides no enrichment opportunities for students who easily pass the TAAS will nonetheless be rated four-star if the school’s demographics are right. Similarly, a school that takes students making scores of 10 and increases their scores to 60 will still only receive one star, since the school receives no credit for a student who does not score at least 70 on the test. And if your child has a disability or other special needs, forget it. The TAAS doesn’t yet apply to them. The star system and the TAAS have value, but parents should be cautioned not to read too much into the scores and the rankings.
Member, House Committee on Public Education, Houston
AFTER CHECKING THE LIST OF SCHOOLS, I was disappointed that I did not find Medina. We are a K-12 campus with a student population of 325. With an economically disadvantaged percentage of 48.8 percent and an above 80 percent passing rate on the TAAS, our school should have made at least the three-star list. I came to the conclusion that your rating system did not include K-12 campuses.
Principal, Medina Elementary School, Medina
The editors reply: Mr. Naumann is correct. K-12 campuses are not included in the Texas Education Agency’s list of elementary schools.
BEGINNING IN JANUARY, NEW YORK STATE is mandating “report cards” for all schools. The grade will be based on test results, beginning with basic kindergarten skills up to accelerated classes. Schools will be compared with others of the same size—not economic breakdown or location. I teach seventh-grade English in a small city school. My budget was cut 40 percent this September. I don’t have shades on my windows or pencil sharpeners in my room. There is no copy machine in the building that teachers can use for work sheets or tests. Each day, 47 percent of our students have reduced or free lunches. Do these things affect test results? Yes, they do.
Randy Lee Ross
Wappingers, New York
For more letters about “Our Best Schools,” see Behind the Lines.
“THRILL KILLERS,” BY JIM ATKINSON [November 1996] is a sorry excuse for investigative reporting. Using as its centerpiece the criminal acts of a single individual, Juan Chavez, the author attempts to convince the reader that Chavez’s acts represent the genesis of a new “crime wave.” By careful reading, it is discovered that the “superpredator class” is actually the entire group of human beings, male and female of all races, that we call juveniles. In other words, we are to be terrified of, and launch an attack against, young people, since, the author would have us believe, it is from this group that our future Bogeymen will come. Isn’t this Hitler’s Untermenschen? The most insidious part of the author’s thesis is that he wants the reader to believe that Chavez’s behavior is not attributable to “well-worn scapegoats” such as poverty, the failure of public education, the disintegration of the traditional family, and drug use. Rather, the author wants us to acknowledge a vague and undefined “latent psychopathic urge.” As a last insult to the reader’s intelligence, the author repeatedly and unwarrantedly speculates on what made Chavez act the way he did, in spite of admitting that “why” was “a question that would never be satisfactorily answered.”
Phil L. Scott, Jr.