In Fort Worth ISD, 85% of students are economically disadvantaged, and the progress of those students might have helped the district jump to a B rating in this year’s accountability scores.

When evaluating school progress, the Texas Education Agency looks at how well districts perform compared to other districts with similar economically disadvantaged student populations, and that’s where Fort Worth ISD seemed to improve this year.

The Leadership Academy Network was tasked with turning around some failing schools — and some of the poorest schools — in Fort Worth ISD and it did so with almost every campus it was assigned, which matches a trend of improved ratings in the district.

Priscilla Dilley, the Leadership Academy Network’s senior officer, emphasized high expectations and good relationships as primary reasons for the improvement. For her, it’s not just about if the children sitting at the desk make an A on their homework, but it’s also whether they have running water at home.

“We really got committed to learning more about our families and what those needs are,” she said. “Through some outside philanthropy partners we are able to just identify needs and meet them where they were at. It was anything from like, ‘Hey, the water’s been shut off, let’s get it back on’ because this baby needs to be in a good home environment to be successful in school.”

With the return of the Texas Education Agency’s accountability ratings for school districts in Texas, Fort Worth ISD is now a B-rated school district, improving from its C rating in 2019.

How are schools graded?

Check out our explainer to learn more.

“Thanks to the incredible work of our teachers, we have gained 14 points in five years – despite two years of a global pandemic,” outgoing Superintendent Kent Scribner said in a written statement. “Furthermore, TEA now confirms an increase in high-performing campuses and a significant decrease in the number of schools rated below C.”

Fort Worth ISD had 19 campuses earn an A rating, 56 scored a B, 29 received a C and 35 were not rated. In 2019, only 11 campuses earned an A and 30 scored a B. That year, the most common score was a C, which 51 campuses received.

How did Fort Worth ISD jump a grade?

  • The district received a low B, with 81 being the overall score.
  • The school progress domain helped push Fort Worth ISD forward. Compared to 2019, its academic growth score was a 63, and this year it was 79.
  • According to TEA, “school progress shows how students perform over time and how the district’s performance compares to other districts with similar economically disadvantaged student populations.”

This year, there were two different “not rated” designations. Fort Worth ISD had 12 campuses with the “not rated” label because some nontraditional campuses do not receive a rating. Some campuses — 23 of them — were rated “not rated (SB 1365),” which was applied when the domain or overall scaled score for a district or campus was less than 70, according to the Texas Education Agency.

TEA looks at three domains when rating schools: student achievement, school progress and closing the gap. Certain domains are weighted differently when TEA calculated the overall score. Fort Worth ISD scored a C in student achievement, a B in school progress and a C in closing the gaps.

In 2019, the district received a C in student achievement, a B in school progress and a C in closing the gaps.

Fort Worth ISD is part of the 25% of districts across the state that earned an improved letter grade and part of the 54% of districts that received a B, according to TEA. Across Texas, compared with 2019, more districts were graded at an A and fewer were graded at B or C.

Keeping the momentum

When Fort Worth ISD gets its new superintendent soon, that person will inherit a B-rated district. The task will be to maintain and improve it.

Board president Tobi Jackson said the rating is exciting for the team, students and community.

“The team now has the opportunity to demonstrate immediacy and intentionality in their work on behalf of our students,” Jackson said. “Fort Worth ISD will work to sustain the current gains while strengthening the factors impacting all TEA measured and monitored domains.”

John Pritchett, a founder of the Focus on Students PAC, a Fort Worth based group focusing on improving Fort Worth ISD, said yes, the district’s grade improved and it’s important to give credit where it’s due, but at the same time student academic performance still lags.

The district’s score in student achievement is a 73. 

“The school board still has a lot of work to do,” Pritchett said. “Hire a superintendent, hold her or him accountable for providing access to high-quality education to all the children in Fort Worth no matter their ZIP code. This is welcome, but I think there’s a lot of meat in this report that needs to be understood. And after some quick backslapping, hard work needs to continue.”

What the community wants is 100% graduation and career, college and military readiness for every student, Jackson said. 

Currently, the district has a graduation rate of 85.7%

The district still has work to do in that area; it did not receive the postsecondary readiness distinction from TEA this year. More data on college, career and military readiness will be available later in the school year when the Texas Academic Performance Report is available.

What caused these changes?

The Leadership Academy Network, part of the Senate Bill 1882 agreement that allows the district to partner with a charter entity to run campuses, saw improvements on almost all of its six campuses and met targets.

“It just kind of confirmed all the work that the teachers put in for the past two years really coming out of this pandemic, and the commitment that they have to kids,” Dilley said. “In a way it wasn’t surprising, but it was in the fact that we know what we were up against.”

Most of the campuses Dilley and the Leadership Academy Network partnership oversee had C or F ratings in 2019 and are high poverty schools. 

Because of the poverty levels, Dilley said Leadership Academy Network pushed teachers and other employees to meet families where they are. Sometimes that meant making sure basic needs were met, like getting the water turned on or groceries in the fridge.

At the Forest Oak seventh- and eighth-grade campus, the percent of economically disadvantaged students is 97% and the school rating went up to a B.  Dilley said the teachers and staff at that campus still maintained good relationships with students, but didn’t cut them much slack on the expectations of campus. When students returned to the classroom, Dilley said some forgot about behavior and academic expectations and teachers had to be tough in establishing those.

But the campus also had a high number of students getting into trouble or struggling, Dilley said, and the principal had to come up with different ways to deal with that than a typical middle school campus. 

“A lot of times when kids leave the elementary schools and go to the middle or high school. There’s this idea that folks have to treat kids differently,” Dilley said. “Our principal there actually used to be an elementary school principal; she runs that school like an elementary school. And she has her teachers involved in instruction, and she just really has this expectation of, they’re still kids. So why aren’t we treating them still with that love and that tenderness and that relationship factor?”

However, the sixth-grade part of Forest Oak did not perform as well. It received a “not rated” label when the target was a C. Part of that is the grade joining Leadership Academy Network later than the other campuses, but she’s confident they’ll improve, Dilley said. 

‘Poverty is not destiny’

Fort Worth ISD data shows several economically disadvantaged schools still earned a B rating. Education commissioner Mike Morth said on a call with media this is happening in many schools and proves “poverty is not destiny.”

In Texas, 18% of high-poverty schools received an A. In Fort Worth ISD, 85% of students are considered economically disadvantaged. 

Some high poverty schools were the ones to earn an A in Fort Worth ISD. For example, Alice D. Contreras Elementary has a 91% economically disadvantaged student population and scored an A. Meadowbrook Elementary, which has a 94% poverty rate, also received an A.

However, of the campuses that did not at least receive at least a C rating, almost all had a poverty rate of at least 80%. The only exception is Como Montessori, which is 79% economically disadvantaged.

As the district continues to move forward, Pritchett said, the culture of the district will be important.

“Culture is something you can’t write a policy on, but you have to have,” he said. “And if you don’t have accountability, if you don’t have high expectations, you’re not going to do anything. You’ll always make excuses and it’s nice, you’ll have some successes, but you’re never going to move the needle.”


Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...