The accountability ratings announced by the Texas Education Agency this month offered mixed messages. The ratings — which are based on student performances on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, dropout rates and completion rates — showed that tougher standards caused hundreds of public schools to dip to lower levels this year. But meanwhile, more schools earned an exemplary rating, the highest rank given.

In Brown County, three school campuses earned that exemplary rating, Northwest Elementary and Woodland Heights Elementary, both in Brownwood, and May Elementary. Ten other schools in the county, including four in Brownwood, three in Early and one in Bangs, were rated recognized, the next highest level.

Congratulations are in order to the students, teachers and administrators whose hard work has resulted in the positive accomplishments that are reflected in these strong ratings. Residents of county communities should also thank members of school boards whose oversight and efforts on behalf of the districts create an environment in which students can excel.

But the significance of having school systems that have been found to perform at the highest levels possible when compared to others in the state should not be lost. The Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce, in its newsletter to the community published in Saturday’s Bulletin, made some of those points.

School quality is one of the key factors leaders of industry and business consider when they are considering adding a location or moving to a new one. It is even more important to most of the employees those businesses must have to work at their locations. And good schools also mean those businesses will have a strong pool of motivated, educated candidates for jobs when the students graduate.

In today’s fast-paced economy, communities and educational institutions have to run hard to keep up with their competitors, who are no longer just those in a neighboring city or state but are halfway around the world, thanks to 21st-century communications.

For example, even as the rating standards got tougher, Texas schools achieving the top exemplary rank increased from 564 to 637 — an increase of 8 percent. But not every school is enjoying success like that; a total of 21 more schools fell into the unacceptable category. For most schools landing there, it means they have a lot of work to do in the areas of science and math.

The success is great, but school officials don’t have much time to pat themselves on the back. Classes for the new school year will begin for most on Aug. 27, and the challenge they have accepted is to continue to succeed — and to improve even more.

Brownwood Bulletin