Hays CISD and San Marcos CISD received passing grades in this year’s state accountability ratings. But recent legislation has district officials preparing for changes to the two-year-old system for rating schools.

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In 2015 both districts met state standards overall and all four academic indicators: student achievement, student progress, closing the achievement gap and postsecondary readiness. In the 2017-18 school year the state will implement a new system in which districts and schools will receive a letter grade to assess academic performance.

Local performance

“When you look at our state scores, all of our schools met standard,” HCISD Superintendent Michael McKie said. “We met all of our targets. We have a number of distinctions. But I’m here to tell you we’re not happy with our scores, either.”

McKie said the district is trending in the right direction. He said he tracks 48 data points in reference to the state’s reporting system, and in 2014 HCISD met or exceeded the state average in 18 of those 48 data points. In 2015 the district met or exceeded the state average in 29 of the 48 data points, he said.

But changes the district is making because of a curriculum management audit will overhaul the way students are taught in HCISD, he said. McKie said curriculum will be implemented that better meets the needs of students.

SMCISD, meanwhile, is in the same boat as its neighboring district—improving but with more work yet to do, Superintendent Mark Eads said.

“All of our campuses are moving in the right direction,” Eads said. “That’s the good takeaway. There are areas we can still work on. We know what to do, and we’re taking care of that right now.”Districts prepare for new rating system

A-F ratings

Prior to August 2013, schools and districts received one of four ratings: Academically Unacceptable, Academically Acceptable, Recognized or Exemplary.

The current system was implemented in August 2013, the first time districts and schools received ratings of either Met Standard or Improvement Required.

Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, because of changes passed in the 2015 legislative session, schools and districts will be rated A through F based on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, test.

The STAAR exam tests students beginning in third grade through high school. If a student fails a STAAR test, he or she must receive accelerated instruction, often during summer school.

The letter grade will also be based on five indicators, up from four in the current system.

The new fifth indicator, a community-based ratings system, rests in the hands of each district’s stakeholders. A 2013 piece of legislation called for districts to develop criteria for evaluating school performance. District leaders and community members throughout the state were involved in a process before the end of the 2013-14 school year to determine areas on which to evaluate their own district.

The influence of standardized test performance on a district’s grade wanes somewhat in the new system, with 55 percent dependent on test scores. Beginning in 2015-16, community-based accountability ratings will factor 10 percent into the overall rating, and the rest of the rating will depend on certain student success rates and statistics. The remaining 35 percent will be based on the district’s ability to prepare students for life after graduation. In the current system three of the four indicators were based completely on STAAR scores.

Greg Rodriguez, SMCISD’s former assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and accountability, who took a job with Huntsville ISD in August, said the new rating system will look substantially different from the one currently in place.

“It is going to cause, I think, more confusion with people who are just barely starting to understand this system,” Rodriguez said.

McKie said the A-F rating system is similar to other states that have adopted the federal Common Core standards, and although Texas has several indicators that factor into the letter grade, most of it is based on STAAR performance.

“At the end of the day it’s one test, one day,” he said. “Is that the end-all in reference to grading a school?”Districts prepare for new rating system

Community-based accountability

Districts received a mandate beginning in the 2013-14 school year to develop local accountability ratings much like the state’s annual ratings. Districts and campuses have been issued ratings of Unacceptable, Acceptable, Recognized or Exemplary on criteria formed in collaboration with the community. Local ratings are factoring into the state’s accountability system for the first time in 2015-16.

However, unlike the state ratings’ reliance on STAAR exams, local accountability ratings grade schools and districts on areas not measured by the standardized test.

The community-based accountability system measures performance in eight areas: fine arts, physical education, community and parent involvement, 21st century workforce development programs, second-language acquisition, digital learning, dropout prevention and gifted and talented education programs. Based on those factors, an overall rating is given.

“That is the greatest travesty in my mind … is teachers feeling like they have to teach to the test—that nothing else matters but the test."

-Michael McKie, Hays CISD superintendent

In the new system districts will narrow down the criteria to three standards, and A-F grades will replace the Unacceptable to Exemplary ratings.

McKie said he would like to focus on improving teaching and learning with the STAAR fading into the background. He said satisfactory performance on standardized tests will occur naturally if schools are gearing education toward fundamental learning.

“That is the greatest travesty in my mind … is teachers feeling like they have to teach to the test—that nothing else matters but the test,” McKie said. “I have told our teachers a number of times, ‘We need to focus on learning.’ Learning is the most important thing that can occur in Hays CISD. It’s got to be our No. 1 goal.”

Rodriguez said with less emphasis on high-stakes testing and more of a spotlight on programs that do not usually get recognition, such as dual-language instruction, the community can begin to develop a self-
assessment tool that more accurately reflects school performance. Local accountability is beginning to take hold in many states, he said.

“Students know the test doesn’t tell the whole story about a school system,” he said.