The Ysleta and Anthony independent school districts celebrated a shared first Monday: They both were A-rated districts in the eyes of the state for the first time.

“Under the best of circumstances, an A rating is an incredible accomplishment … but the fact that we are in this rating in the aftermath of one of the most uncertain and challenging times in modern history is truly phenomenal,” Ysleta Independent School District Superintendent Xavier De La Torre said in a promotional video posted on the district’s website.

The Texas Education Agency released district and campus academic accountability ratings Monday, which were last given in 2019.

Canutillo Independent School District retained its A rating. Socorro, which earned its first A in 2019, dropped from a 90 to a 88. All other El Paso County traditional school districts — El Paso, Clint, San Elizario, Fabens and Tornillo — received a B, as they did in 2019.

The academic accountability ratings are largely based on student scores on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, a standardized test given to public school students starting in the third grade. Because the STAAR was canceled in 2020 and then not required for all students in 2021, the state temporarily paused the ratings during these years.

Both districts and their individual campuses receive a letter grade that is based on three categories. Most of the overall grade — 70% — is based on student achievement on the STAAR or progress on the STAAR (academic growth) compared to the previous year, whichever is the higher grade. The remainder of the overall score is based on closing the gaps, or how well students from various subgroups, such as English language learners, special education students or those living in poverty line, performed.

The rating system “gives the schools many ways to demonstrate their excellence, (and) it recognizes the diversity of schools,” Texas education commissioner Mike Morath said in an Aug. 11 media call.

Sixth grade science students at Navarrete Middle School participate in an ice breaker activity on the first day of EPISD’s 2022-23 school year. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

This year, nearly half of Texas districts received a higher grade in the progress category than they did in achievement, compared to 17% in 2019, according to a TEA analysis.

“Even with all of the disruptions of the pandemic, we have seen significant gains, especially in academic growth because we had very significant declines in proficiency during the pandemic,” Morath said. “But this year, overall levels of reading have recovered so strongly that they’re even better than they were in 2019.”

In El Paso, the progress measure was a major factor in La Fe Preparatory School’s substantial jump from a failing overall score of 52 in 2019 to a 93 this year. The small elementary charter school in the Segundo Barrio earned a C (75) in achievement this year, but an A (95) in school progress. It scored 87 in closing the gaps.

Though a district or campus could earn a high overall grade despite poor student performance on the STAAR, Morath said sustained progress, or academic growth, over the years would eventually produce academic achievement.

Ysleta, Canutillo and Anthony ISD’s overall A grades also stemmed from the progress category. This year, YISD scored 85 in student achievement and 93 in student progress; Canutillo earned an 86 in achievement and a 91 in progress; and Anthony received an 88 in achievement and 95 in progress.

Unlike 2019, districts and campuses that received a D or F letter grade (a score below 70) this year were “not rated.” The only El Paso area district that wasn’t rated was El Paso Leadership Academy, a charter school for students in grades 6-12. El Paso Leadership Academy earned an overall score of 59, down from an 88 in 2019.

The Texas Legislature suspended D and F ratings — and the repercussions that would normally come with them — this year “because we want to make sure that the system has some time to recover,” Morath said.

The state education agency can decide to close a campus or take over the elected school board if a school receives a failing academic accountability rating for consecutive years.

El Paso was the only district whose campuses did not earn ratings. In EPISD, Canyon Hills, Morehead and Magoffin middle schools were not rated as all received D grades.

“As we work towards improvement, our primary focus will be Tier I instruction, which includes redesigning our PreK-12 core curricula,” EPISD Superintendent Diana Sayavedra said in a news release. “This will provide stronger, more effective teaching for every student, every day because it starts with us.”

Overall, the bulk of campuses in the county’s three largest districts — El Paso, Socorro and Ysleta — earned an A or B.

How to look up your school’s score

Visit txschools.gov to search for school district and campus ratings.

The overall letter grade rating and the corresponding numeral score are listed, as are the individual grades and scores for the three categories that make up the overall grade: student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps.

Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014, with...