The release of school accountability ratings for Texas public schools was delayed from Sept. 28 to October, pending a re-evaluation of baseline data amid litigation seeking to block the release of the ratings.

What's happening

The Texas Education Agency announced Sept. 12 it would delay the release of A-F accountability ratings for Texas school districts and campuses to review student data and re-evaluate the methodology used in calculating these ratings, a news release from the agency states.

"Maintaining high expectations helps guide our efforts to improve student learning and support,” TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said in the release. “The A-F system is designed to properly reflect how well our schools are meeting those high expectations, and the adjustments we are making this year will ensure it continues to serve as a tool for parents and educators to help our students."

How did we get here

The delay comes as multiple school districts are suing the agency to block the release of the ratings. The legal petition Kingsville ISD, et. al., v. Morath, filed in August in the Travis County 419th District Court, alleges that Morath would effectively lower A–F performance ratings for the 2022-23 school year in an unlawful manner by changing the way they are calculated retroactively.

"That will arbitrarily lower performance ratings for many school districts and campuses even though their performance improved," the petition reads.

The list of districts that have signed on to the suit includes, but is not limited to, the following:The TEA began a refresh of its methodology for calculating these ratings in late 2021, sharing new benchmarks students must reach for schools to receive a certain grade. One of these adjustments raised the cutoff point for a district to receive an A based on the college, career and military readiness of students from 60% to 88%, a 28 percentage point increase.

What they're saying

District officials across the state have raised concerns about the impact of the changes to accountability ratings, as they are a metric used by school boards to address educational priorities year to year. It is also a performance measure used to gauge the quality of schools by their communities and prospective families.

"We believe that there is no public relations campaign that the agency can do that is going to tell the public our schools are doing OK," said Adelaida Olivarez, Pflugerville ISD's chief academic and innovation officer.

While readiness is one of several factors used to calculate accountability ratings, officials in school districts such as PfISD have called the change in standard unfair, as it is being applied retroactively to a group of students who have graduated. PfISD staff's calculations show the district would drop from an A to a C in overall ratings.

"I think it's time for folks to hear that the fairness and the accountability system is in question right now," PfISD Superintendent Doug Killian said. "I think it was a bad time to try to reset the accountability system, and the methodology for how it was done is unfair to our staff and to our students."

The TEA's release states the adjusted methodology was intended to account for the impact of COVID-19 by using baselines of average student growth observed in the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years. When statewide growth data for the 2022-23 school year became available, the release states it was "more anomalous than expected," and that setting cutoff points based on that data might not properly account for the pandemic's impact.

What's next

In addition to the refreshed A-F ratings, the TEA will provide "what-if" scenarios using the previous year's methodology and cutoff points to help give school districts a better year-over-year comparison point. Ratings will be released about a month after the original Sept. 28 date, but a specific date is not noted.