Preliminary TAKS Scores Do Not Bode Well for FWISD

by Betty Brink


The Fort Worth schools’ preliminary rankings on the 2011 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, otherwise known as TAKS, have been released by the Texas Education Agency — and they are not good.  Twenty-two schools have been ranked “academically unacceptable” this year. Fifty-seven came in with the next to lowest rank, “academically acceptable,” 33 got a “recognized” status, and only six achieved the highest rank, “exemplary.”                                       

The district is ranked “academically acceptable.” With an asterisk: The ranking is based on the district meeting a “required improvement or exception standard.” “This means that when schools or districts are below the standard for passing but have moved up toward it by a sufficient number of percent points, usually about four percent, in the last year, they reach that mark,” Trustee Ann Sutherland said. “Notice that the district as a whole is not academically acceptable unless this yardstick is employed.” Eighteen schools that were ranked academically acceptable also had the asterisk, which means that at least 40 schools actually failed. By the time the final results are released in July, any of these schools, as well as the district, could fall into the unacceptable category if the TEA determines that the benchmark was not met.

The scores “tell us that there is much work to be done,” said Sutherland, who has been one of the sharpest critics of Superintendent Melody Johnson’s administration, pointing out that when Johnson arrived here to assume the post in 2005, Fort Worth ranked second from the top academically among the state’s six urban districts, FW, Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso. Today, it ranks second from the bottom, and the results of this year’s TAKS scores could drop it to the bottom. 

(The other district’s scores have not been publicly released so comparisons will have to wait.  Fort Worth has also not released these rankings to the public. However, Johnson, who has had the results since mid May, sent them to be board late on Friday, June 3, after Sutherland, Juan Rangel and Carlos Vasquez demanded at last week’s board meeting that she release them.)

“I am very  disappointed that we have so many low performing schools,” wrote trustee Carlos Vasquez in an email. ”Dr. Johnson’s Vision 2010 and strategies have not worked. She has taken most of the instructional leadership away from our principals. Principals cannot chose what programs they have in their schools. … There seems to be a disconnect between our Central administration and our schools. You can’t blame the principals or the schools when they can only do what downtown mandates. We need to empower our principals, shift Title 1 monies back to the campus level and let them lead and not just manage.”
             Johnson, in a move that surprised her board, submitted her resignation on May 19, effective September 19. While she has said only that she is leaving for family reasons, her mother is ill in California, it is significant, these trustees say, that Johnson submitted her resignation the day after she is alleged to have received the preliminary test results. Compared to last year’s scores, the district seems to be in deep trouble. However, those scores, which Johnson and her staff touted at the time as the result of her abilities to bring high academic achievements to the district, have been found to be highly misleading. 

In 2010, the district showed only five academically unacceptable campuses, while 62 were ranked academically acceptable, 37 recognized, and 12 achieved the coveted exemplary status. However, last year’s scores were based on a questionable formula churned up by the Texas Education Agency that has since been thrown out by the commissioner of education as an illegitimate way to rank Texas schools. Called the Texas Projection Measure, it was discarded after Democratic state representative Scott Hochberg from Houston exposed it as a misguided attempt to make Texas kids look better against their national peers by manipulating test scores. Briefly, what it did was add “helpers” to many schools, raising them up one rank, according to Sutherland, who called the system “a fraud.”

That year the state applied the formula that, simply put, allowed failing children to be counted as having passed the TAKS based on an assumption that these kids would one day pass the tests because other children whose test scores fit the same pattern eventually passed. The TEA called it a “growth measure.” Yet as columnist Rick Casey wrote in the Houston Chronicle last year, “To most of us, that would imply that [the TPM] looked at how a child did this year compared to the last.” But, Casey wrote, Hochberg brought out in a legislative hearing, that TPM doesn’t measure an individual child’s growth. It looked only at previous years’ scores of all students and, based on a formula devised from thousands of prior results, projected that children who pass reading or math were “likely” to pass other tests in future years. The now discarded formula, Casey pointed out, allowed half of the 1 million students who failed the TAKS being transformed into passing test takers, the number of unacceptable schools cut in half, while the number of “exemplary” schools doubled. The result: an artificially high ranking for most schools across the state, including Fort Worth.

            “Now we are in the real world,” said one teacher.

              “We need to analyze what part of the drop is due to the TPM and what part is due to us and the districts need to ‘raise hell’ with Austin over this nonsense.,” Sutherland said.

Many teachers and others, including the three trustees who pressured Johnson to release the scores, say that the 22 failing schools are the major reason Johnson has submitted her resignation. She leaves the district on September 19, unless – as is likely to happen – the board votes this coming Tuesday night to hire Deputy Superintendent Walter Dansby as an interim super allowing her to leave early. 

One of Johnson’s most vocal critics said today that these latest results show that those who are “heaping praise” on Johnson as an innovator and great superintendent “have forgotten the unwarranted, unimaginable and unforgivable failure rate of the children in the Fort Worth public school system, especially for our black children. … The bigotry of low expectations has come true,” said Kyev Tatum, a minister and president of the Tarrant County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 

The low-performing schools, many with high minority populations, are: Dunbar High School; Eastern Hills HS; Polytechnic HS; Western Hills HS; O. D. Wyatt HS; Forest Oak Middle School; Dunbar 6th Grade; Handley Middle School; William James MS; McLean MS; Meacham MS; Meadowbrook MS; Morningside MS; Monnig MS; Leonard MS; Maude L. Logan Elementary School; Meadowbrook ES; D. McRae ES; AM Pate ES; Versia Williams ES; Atwood McDonald ES; and Woodway ES.  The vast majority failed in either reading, math and science or a combination of the three.  Versia Williams failed only the writing test and Dunbar 6th Grade and Meadowbrook Elementary failed only reading.

Schools receiving exemplary status were the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, in its first year; Riverside Applied Learning Academy; Burton Hill Elementary, George C. Clark ES; Tanglewood ES; and Van Zandt Guinn Elementary.













  1. I must say that, as a student, I think the responsibility for good grades and whatnot rests on my shoulders- not my teachers’ or administrators’. They do provide tools and help, but ultimately, if I want to get good marks, I’ve got to put the effort into doing it.
    I don’t think anybody but the students should be blamed for these unfortunate ratings. In fact, the only time I’ve ever been hindered in any way by my school’s administration, is when they try to solve these problems with the immediate solutions that everyone wants- solutions that generally include “lowering standards.”

  2. Now they are reduced to having students defend Melody. If you really are a student Cooper, what school do you attend? Meanwhile, maybe if Tobi Jackson and Norm Robbins paid more attention to the schools they “represent” instead of carrying water for Melody, Dickerson and Needham, they would have been able to effect the changes needed. Moss will have to answer to her constituents for TWO disasters as well as failing to show for the Friday meeting and being the person who recommended extending Melody’s contract for a year. Though late to the game, at least Sims has now seen the light.

  3. I congratulate Mr. Wyatt for taking responsibility for his academic achievement. I am sure that he is one of those exceptional students who is self-motivated and probably has innate intellectual abilities. I wonder , though, if he understands that not all students who come to FWISD have a one-size-fits-all learning style. Dr. Johnson was hired, supposedly, because she is an expert in academic strategies and sold us on a vision for our district’s future. She should have known the district’s demographics and the challenges that come with it. The parents of those students who may need more resources, paid their school taxes (and so did the rest of us) to ensure that their children received those services. Johnson, in happily accepting her excessive salary, needed to make sure that those students received the kind of services that they needed; instead, her concentration appears to have focused on catering to those communities that she was comfortable with and had sworn to protect her. These TAKS results show that, in Johnson, our community obviously did not get what we paid for, but it’s our neediest students who’ll pay the biggest price.
    She then has the gall to blame three trustees for not being able to concentrate on academics. She had 300K a year to help her concentrate!

  4. Finally, the truth just came to surface. Whoever is elected to be the interim superintendent should review all those programs implemented by Johnson that did not work. We have been telling that the curriculum frameworks do not allow teachers to teach to mastery. Michael Sorum always insisted to the fidelity of the program instead of teaching to mastery. He puts many schools at risk because teachers have to do remediation of the classes being taught due to the fast pace of the lessons and the content.

    Another area that this board has to pay a lot of attention is the now unpopular new “program” called REDEDICATION presented by Dr. Josie Gutierrez. This is money that is going to be thrown to the air to be collected by a University of Virginia. Robert Ray, who retired, is now working for that University in the expense of the failing schools that he was in charge. Are you going to allow that these schools become a laboratory like the PEAK campuses? Parents have not being consulted with the changes in schedule and many teachers are going to be displaced if they do not commit to the so-called “REDEDICATION” schools. In 1993-95 there were some campuses that extended the school year and nothing extraordinary happened. Are they going to do the same thing? Betty Brink, an investigation has to be done to reveal the real problem. We do not need money, we need to be left alone to do the right thing to teach the children.

    Let’s throw the money to the air and let catch it with our hats. We are talking about $20,000,000.00 in two years.

    What about the Teach For America program? $3,000.000.00 to innovate schools with “teachers” who take a three weeks of trainings and they become “master teachers.” Are we going to allow this too? That’s why the morale is so low in our district.

    The house must be cleaned. Return the power to the schools not to third parties in the central administration.

  5. Teaching for mastery is what teachers have historically been about. Fort Worth has been on a binge of trying to get every teacher on the same page, every day, following a “framework”. This “framework” is definitely is not designed for mastery learning.

    Good teachers try to bring a child along 9 months (or more) for every 9 months in school. It would be very difficult to achieve that goal for most of us teachers if we conscientiously stayed with that treadmill that administration calls a “framework”. It’s going to be too fast for some and too slow for others…and provides few possiblity for the slow learner or the academically gifted.

  6. It was Judy Needham who sold us on Johnson: “The best superintendent in the country”. Sorum, Reyna, Ray (Chief of Schools) should resign as should the Board Member representing each High School. Especially Moss who has TWO low performing High Schools. Wasn’t it Moss who proposed extending MJ’s contract? Wasn’t it Moss who joined ranks with Dickerson, Needham, Jackson and Robbins in boycotting last Friday’s Board Meeting? Every one of these Principals should be replaced.

  7. The district has always spoken about differentiation in classroom to teach every child. Everyone who has highlighted the curriculum frameworks is correct that it’s a one size fits all. Dr. Johnson said two years ago at convocation that we should take a risk and do what we can to reach all students. Then when we tried to revamp the curriculum to fit our students we were told we have to do as it says. Then Dual Language came in and doubled the heartache because people in power want to do it their way. Other districts like Austin ISD have different curriculums to assist schools who are failing and those that need to continue to improve. When are we going to allow the people in the trenches do the job they are hired to do? We go to trainings that tell us we are not helping our students and we take the information, try to implement it but we are stopped. There is too much power to a few individuals. I am hoping a new wave is coming. Schools who are high performing are allowed to follow their own curriculum and are still high performing, why can’t the rest of the schools do the same? Redidication and PEAK were a failure because of the bureaucracy and the connections principals had to central office. You keep the same teachers/administrators and expect them to transform failing schools when they had three years to do it and failed. When you do the same thing over an d over you get the same results. YOu have people who have no vision and are still in the same schools as principals, it’s what we call the FORT WORTH WAY.. do it my way or the highway. The three board members may seem radical to some but they are making us look at what we have been afraid to confront, failure. Too many secrets and we need to know the truth.
    When are we going to rise up and do the right thing?

  8. If you remember my comments, it is not a surprise to have so many low performing schools. Dr. Sutherland published in her blog a true picture of the District performance if TPM would be taken away.

    Dr. Vasquez is 100% right when he wrote that the power of decision-making must be returned to schools. Many principals failed to turn their schools around because they had to implement the mandates of the “Leadership” who spent the last two years talking about closing the achievement gap of the African Americans. They imposed and monitored the failing instructional strategies that only widened the gap among students in their classroom. Can you believe that many teachers on “special assignments” (coaches) had more power than principals in their schools? The Curriculum and Instruction department to monitor principals used some of the Literacy and math coaches to debrief about the fidelity of the implementation of the curriculum frameworks and when principals complained about the ineffectiveness of the pace of the curriculum they got in trouble. Let’s say that this is over and the new administration is going to improve the academic fiasco and return the power to campuses.

    Now, who would be the one mending the damages created by this administration? We are very apprehensive about selecting an internal candidate because the risk of maintaining the status quo is very high. There is a brotherhood in the Central Administration that if the board appoint an internal candidate most of them are going to remain in power doing the same damages to schools. It is common to hear if you don’t know one of the brother and sister from downtown, you are nobody. Tell me who you know, I will tell you who you will be. We need to stop these nepotism practices.

    Ms. Brink, pay attention to the FWISDleaks comments about the “Transformation” initiative to improve several campuses lead by Dr. Gutierrez. This does not sound and look right. PEAK campuses did not make the expected progress even though they attracted the best teachers from other campuses who followed the money. Teachers have been complaining about the implementation to their organizations and parents are wondering what is going on in their schools.

  9. This story clearly evidences the fact that canned curriculums of any sort–from CSCOPE to district-designed–simply do not work. Education is about people, not curriculum enforcement. The fix? Hire good teachers. Hire teachers who are knowledgeable in their respective fields of study and are committed to the intellectual development and well-being of students. A good teacher does not need a scripted lesson plan to be effective. A good teacher already has the necessary “framework” to teach their subject. These prescriptive approaches to teaching only shackle the hands and benumb the minds of good teachers, reducing them to automaton-like robots who have lost all personal connection with students–and any passion he/she once had for teaching. Low teacher morale has become a serious concern with the imposition of these canned curriculums.

    Sadly, the upshot of district-imposed curriculums is that they typically run off the good teachers. When are administrators going to wake up and see the light? Let teachers teach in their own, unique style; and let students learn in their own, unique style. Stop with all the scientific, formulaic, one-size-fits-all canned curriculums. A quality textbook, inclusive of the requisite TEKS, is all a good teacher needs to guide students along the road to academic success.

  10. I believe what all of these comments indicate and what virtually every teacher would agree with, is that Melody may be gone, but we need to dig deeper. Reyna, Sorum, Ray, Davie, Griffin, the 80+ retire rehires still in Central Admin, and the rest of the MJ crew need to be gone.

  11. “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit…” This quote is heard throughout every household in America at some point or another, when you are trying to teach the child a lesson in humility. I believe our district resonates this quite clearly and has for many decades! The board hired and paid a woman, who inflated her previous success, to come to FTW and run an already damaged district reputation further into the ground! We got what we paid for…an overpriced insolent, self-absorbed pretender!

    The TAKS scores for our district should not be a shock to anyone, given the caliber of visionaries (and I use that term loosely) that were hired as top administrators. These so-called visionaries, aka MJ and her brood of “yes people”, are the sole reason our district has diminished its academic standing in the past 6 years! FWISD’s intermittent success at being an outstanding school district lies within the confines of an administration who embraces unbalance of power and hidden agendas.

    How is it that a district, such as ours, goes from being in the top 2 to the bottom 2 in a span of 6 years under MJ’s regime? Surely this didn’t just happen overnight! We have known this and no one did anything about it. I surmise the select 3 trustees, Juan, Ann and Carlos (hereto known as JUANACAR) tried and obviously failed numerous times, only because of the unbalance of power disseminating through the board! However, I am glad the heat was turned up high on FWISD; if you remember what started all this, unfortunately, at the expense of a school like AHHS. If you all think back and/or re-read Betty Brink’s articles; had it not been for the AHHS calamity, MJ and her minions would still be hiding behind closed doors, deciphering how to continue to siphon taxpayer money to cover up their corruptive behaviors. I for one believe that things happen for a reason…call it serendipity or whatever you like. The fact of the matter is AHHS/Palazzolo debacle surfaced the venality that has plagued the district for years!!! The scores are a moot point, because they are just nails in the coffin of a failed administration.

    What I find disheartening is, if we continue to settle for less, we are going to “get less”; if we don’t thoroughly search for a flawless permanent superintendent to take the reins, our district will continue to mutate the corruption! I agree with the bloggers who say we need to get someone from the outside…someone who is not vested in settling scores or continuing the reprehensible maleficence. I pray the constituents throughout the district take time to know who they vote for in the elections for FWISD trustees in the near future. And Mr. Dansby, I hope you live up to your reputation as being someone who means business and cares about this district, even if you will only be an interim superintendent. PLEASE help the district, by cleaning house immediately! And PLEASE don’t make your agenda personal, such as fulfilling a mission to be the first Black superintendent of this district. Don’t make it about race, but more about the students, parents and employees. This is your time to shine Mr. Dansby, for ALL the people in this district; whether Black, Hispanic, White, Asian, Native American, straight or LGBTQ…for all of us!

    As for cleaning house; you could start making an immediate difference, by pulling the plug on MJ’s “yes people” like, Needham, Dickerson, Moss, Jackson, Reyna, Menchaca, Griffin, Kaufman, Sorum, the whole bogus legal dept., Robbins, so forth and so on! These people have in some form or fashion, affected our district negatively, by either covering up truths for professional and/or personal gain, or allowing unfair treatment of district employees. Dr. Sutherland, I applaud your tenacity and the questions you pose on the blotch, especially your comment about Star Telegram! I have said this before and I will say it again; Star Telegram doesn’t report the bad stuff on FWISD, because “they” literally sleep together! For those who don’t know, our district Senior Communications officer, Barbara Griffith, is married to a gentleman by the same last name, which happens to work for the Telegram! Griffith was handpicked by MJ…go figure huh? I say Griffith must be pretty influential, as is her hubby, to stifle fiery headliners from being written on the biggest paper in town! We don’t need your stinkin paper Telegram…we have FTW Weekly and Betty Brink to report on FWISD what you are so scared to do on your own! We’ll see what McClatchy has to say, when the Weekly beats out his paper in journalism awards!

  12. bastadization of education equals more stupid people ,that is what the system needs and wants,try skipping work or some other activism not just talk talk talk

  13. To: R C Hill

    I have heard you use these exact words in other blogs; I didn’t get what you meant then, and I don’t get it now! Could you please enlighten me by explaining what you mean by “bastardization of education equals more stupid people”? Actually, explain your whole statement please! Thanks!