Tornillo Junior High School deemed "low-performing" school

Tornillo Junior High School deemed "low-performing" school

EL PASO, Texas - Tornillo Junior High School has been placed on the "Public Education Grant" or PEG program list, a designation given to low-performing schools.

Parents received a notice in the mail on January 9th, informing them the school was placed on the PEG list.

According to the Texas Education Agency, schools on the list have "passing rates on the STAAR that are less than or equal to 50 percent in any two of the preceding three years: 2013,2014 and 2015 or with an accountability rating of Improvement Required in 2013, 2014 or 2015."

The letter sent to parents this week, states:

    Writing grades were below 50 percent in 2014
    Passing rate in social studies was 50 percent or below
    Passing rate for science was 50 percent or below in 2015
    Passing rate for social studies was 50 percent or below in 2016

The letter adds Tornillo Junior High was rated "Met Standard" in 2016, but staff and administration are making  adjustments to address specific areas of need in reading and writing.

Under the PEG program, parents whose children attend schools on the PEG list can request their children transfer to schools in other districts. The TEA states parents can request a transfer for the following year, districts that receive PEG-transferred students also receive slightly higher allocation of funding from the state.

"For three years now, they've had less than 50% of their students passing one or more sections of the STAAR test. In 2014 it was writing, in 2015, it was social studies and science and in 2016 it was social studies," TEA Spokeswoman DeEtta Culberson said.

Culberson says schools that are on the PEG list aren't sanctioned, the only penalty is parents do have the option to transfer their student out of the school.

"Parents need to look at their individual campus, they need to look at their STAAR scores, they need to look at the programs in place, if they're happy with their school and they feel that their child is thriving and achieving academic success, it's really the parents choice what they want to do as far as any transfer," Culberson said.

When schools that are deemed "Improvement Required" campuses, schools are under the careful eye of the TEA, in order to get them back on track. Those schools are required to have a turnaround plan and can be eligible for grant money and extra funding for professional development for teachers. Tornillo Junior High was not deemed an "Improvement Required" school, but was rated a "Met Standard" school, meaning they did meet accountability ratings, but test scores did not.

"It's a matter of people just looking at the overall picture and looking and seeing where our students are making great gains," Principal Marco Tristan said.

Tristan says while there's work to be done, the school has shown improvement.

"I don't think there should be any concerns, because our campus is making a lot of progress on scores. Our teachers are working extremely hard. Our students are becoming better readers, better writes, their mathematics are great. They can transfer their children, but I feel their students are going to do very well," Tristan said.

Tristan says the school also has a large population of English Language Learners. Tristan says he has 272 students enrolled and more than 80 of them are ESL students. Beginning in the 6th grade, students aren't allowed to take the STAAR test in Spanish. He adds there are students whose parents have denied ESL program services, making it increasingly harder for students to learn the language.

"It's hard for a student to come in from Mexico and all their life they've had Spanish and they're put into classes where they have to function in English."

"It's hard for them to learn the language, a language that from even when they were younger, they couldn't grasp," Oralia Rosales said.

Rosales has two children who are in the 8th grade at Tornillo Junior High School. She says it's unfair students are compared to other students in affluent neighborhoods. Rosales tells ABC-7 she's not concerned about keeping her students at the school because her boys have shown improvement over the years.

"The teachers help them so much, if they see that the students are learning slower than the rate of other students, they talk to the parents, to tutors and they let us know," Rosales said.

The school will be considered a PEG school for at least three years until scores improve.

"Yea, we have challenges, but our teachers are working extremely hard I'm very proud for them and they're doing a wonderful job and if parents are patient, they're going to see improvement," Tristan said.

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