How School and District Rankings Impact Westwood


Hayden Swanson

Westwood High School.

On Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018, Texas released a new grading system for all school districts. This system rates districts on an A-F scale based on three categories: student achievement, school progress, and closing the gaps. Critics to this new scale claim that there are simply too many complex issues that schools face to rank schools on three factors, while supporters note that this system presents an easy, accessible way for parents to decide where they want their kids to go to school.

For all those unaware, Round Rock ISD (RRISD), Westwood’s district, received an overall score of A, with an A in student achievement, a B in school progress, and a B in closing the gaps. More information about the ranking and how it compares to other districts can be found here. While Westwood is only one school in RRISD, the grade the district received still has meaning to each individual school under the Round Rock banner.

“Round Rock ISD has a longstanding tradition of being a fantastic district,” Principal Mario Acosta said in an interview on the subject. “[The grade] is a great reflection on the families, students, schools, and teachers in the district. The A reflects the quality of the district that we’ve all known.”

However, according to Mr. Acosta, this grade changes very little.

“State accountability is what it is, and I’ll tell you this — I’ve been in education 16 years, and I’ve seen probably 12 different accountability systems in 16 years.” To Mr. Acosta, “quality schools are quality schools however you want to label them,” and the fact that there is now a letter grade attached to the district will have a near negligible impact.

On another, more specific metric that relates to Westwood directly, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Westwood number 221 out of all high schools in the nation and number 43 out of Texas high schools based on very particular categories. For Mr. Acosta, this is a far more important ranking. “The U.S. News & World Report is something I look at a lot for Westwood because we are being measured in this system against other schools that are like Westwood.” What this means is that, for this report, Westwood is being compared to other schools of the same caliber — and under a very scrutinizing set of categories, no less.

College Readiness Index, Percentage of AP Tested Students, Percentage of AP Tests Passed, Mathematics Proficiency, and Reading Proficiency are the categories U.S. News & World Report use to determine their rankings, the specifics of which can be found here. The rankings Westwood currently holds are “wonderful badge[s] to carry” in Mr. Acosta’s eyes, but there is always somewhere to improve. According to Mr. Acosta, this area of improvement for Westwood is “college and career readiness.”

“We are missing a portion of our population at Westwood that don’t leave Westwood as having been tagged as ‘college and career ready,’” Mr. Acosta said. “And that has to do with how we are taking students who aren’t necessarily on an advanced track when they come in and helping them be prepared for SAT, ACT, and beyond Westwood and college.”

To improve this area, Mr. Acosta is placing a “very heavy focus with staff development on the way that we are addressing our junior and senior English and Math classes.”

In coming years, this will entail “adjusting the curriculum a little bit, and doing some things to better prepare students for post-secondary life.” These changes will also be aimed at more than university, Mr. Acosta said. “[Post-secondary life] could be a 2-year degree program at a community college, it could be going straight into the workforce.”

Another result of these changes planned for coming years will be to hopefully propel Westwood into the number one spot for schools in the area, an improvement Mr. Acosta will be striving to achieve. “When we look at Central Texas, I want Westwood to be the big ‘W’. When you think of ‘W’, I want Westwood to be the only place you think of in this area.” Even though Westwood is already a high-achieving school, Mr. Acosta has “dug in and found places we can get a little better.”

However, with this planned improvement, Mr. Acosta also wants to make sure that Westwood maintains one of its greatest strengths: its diversity. If Westwood were to focus entirely on improving test scores and STEM subjects, this would undoubtedly raise rankings, but it would also lead to certain subjects and electives — theater, band, and more — being defunded.

“The issue, to me, is that we have a very robust set of interests from our student body — it’s what I love about you guys,” Mr. Acosta said. “But for every student I can find that’s interested in STEM, there’s somebody that’s interested in health science or the arts.”

To not only maintain but embolden Westwood’s diversity, a balance must be maintained between STEM subjects and others. But given the current job market, it is difficult not to focus more and more on STEM subjects.

“For some of my professional development, I’ve been a part of some cohorts that have gone to Google, gone to Apple, gone to UBER, and talked to CEOs to ask what we can do as public educators to better prepare the workforce. They continually tell us coding, coding, coding,” Mr. Acosta said.

Regardless of whether or not STEM becomes more prevalent in Westwood, however, one more challenge still remains: bringing more and more students to the high standard of excellence that Westwood already represents, especially when in the coming years Westwood is set to become even higher achieving. “When there is such a high level of excellence and there are only a few, little places for improvement, improvement becomes increasingly more difficult… We’ve already done so much well — even from a motivational standpoint.”

“If there’s a grade you give us, we’re going to find somewhere that we can keep getting a little better,” Mr. Acosta said in closing. “The good thing is that we have great teachers here who I think believe in this vision, so we’re on a good trajectory.”

In the not-so-distant future, Westwood will be tasked with continuing the pattern of improvement each year. More students will be brought up to a higher level, more work will be put into developing the English and Math curriculums, and more effort will be made to maintain Westwood’s diversity. Hopefully, in the end, Westwood High School will be better each year than the year before.