The preliminary results for the Texas Education Agency’s new A-F accountability rating system, which were published Jan. 6, have school districts across the state up in arms, especially the portion of the ratings that measure postsecondary readiness. More than 60 percent of the nearly 1,000 school districts that received a grade in that portion received a C, D or F grade.
The new rating system is required under House Bill 2804, which was passed during the 2015 legislative session. The bill required the TEA to present an informational report to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2017.
The A-F system will replace the current accountability system that simply states whether school districts met standard under certain performance indicators. The A-F rating system, which will be fully implemented in 2018, will give districts and their campuses an overall grade of A, B, C, D or F as well as an individual grade in five domains: Student Achievement, Student Progress, Closing Performance Gaps, Postsecondary Readiness, and Community and Student Engagement.
The results published Jan. 6 only measured the first four domains and reflect a system that is a work in progress, TEA spokesperson Lauren Callahan said.
Many Texas school district officials have expressed their dissatisfaction with the preliminary grades, especially the grades in Domain IV, which measures postsecondary readiness. Most school districts in Collin County, which in large part received A’s and B’s in the first three domains, did not score higher than a C in Domain IV. Frisco ISD scored two A’s and one B in the first three domains, but scored a C in Domain IV.
The FISD board of trustees is considering passing a resolution asking the Legislature to repeal the A-F system.
“We are not afraid of accountability at all,” said Debbie Gillespie, FISD board secretary and a regional director for the Texas Association of School Boards. “I think that’s part of what has made public education better. But it needs to be fair, and it needs to be meaningful.”
In a statement, state Sen. Larry
Taylor, R-Friendswood, who sponsored HB 2804, said the system is staying.
“Our students and parents deserve a grading system that helps individual students, their campuses and their districts transparently measure academic success and clearly delineate where improvements are needed,” Taylor said. “I realize that some folks are frustrated with accountability, but the taxpayers of Texas deserve to know if their hard-earned tax dollars are being wisely spent and that our students are getting the quality education they deserve.”
Calculating Domain IV
Domain IV looks at three variables at the high school level to measure postsecondary readiness: the graduation rate, the percentage of students graduating with a higher-level graduation plan, and college and career readiness.
To measure college and career readiness, several indicators are considered, including SAT and ACT scores, postsecondary credits earned and how many students took Advanced Placement courses.
Another indicator used for this year’s scores is the number of students who completed two or more career and technical education, or CTE, courses in a sequence. This indicator is what hurt FISD’s score in Domain IV, said Gary Nye, FISD director of assessment and accountability.
FISD offers 13 CTE course pathways. The idea behind the CTE courses is that students would try different career paths before college but not necessarily in a sequence, Nye said. FISD students may be taking more CTE courses than students in smaller districts with fewer course offerings, but more students in those other districts may be taking a sequence of courses, he said.
Callahan said the Domain IV ratings may change by 2018 because the TEA did not have all the data, such as the number of students who enlist in the armed forces—which is information the agency was not required to gather before—required under HB 2804.
Under HB 2804, all campuses are graded on postsecondary readiness, but a district’s score will only consider the postsecondary score for its high schools in most cases. For Domain IV, elementary schools are graded on the number of students who are chronically absent, and middle schools also are graded on the absenteeism rate as well as the dropout rate.
Domain IV trends
Out of the 150 school districts that received an A rating in Domain IV, more than two-thirds of them are categorized as “rural” school districts by the TEA. By comparison, FISD is categorized as an “other central city” school district, meaning it is one of the largest school districts in Collin and Denton counties. Rural school districts can have an enrollment of less than 300 students.
Malta ISD, for example, which scored an A in Domain IV, is a rural school district in far West Texas with one elementary school and an enrollment of less than 200 students. The district’s score in Domain IV is based on the absenteeism rate only.
The only ISD categorized as an “other central city” school district to receive an A in Domain IV is United ISD. The district in Laredo has more than 40 campuses and approximately 43,000 students. The district received a C in Domain I and A’s in the other domains.
The problem with determining whether students are ready for college is that there is no common definition for college readiness, said Raymund Paredes, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board commissioner of higher education.
“There’s a great variance in what might be college readiness at a community college and what might be college readiness at [The University of Texas] or Texas A&M University,” he said. “It means different things to different people.”
According to The College Board, nearly 32 percent of Texas students in the class of 2015 met the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark.
“There’s a persistent problem with the numbers of students who require developmental—or what is also known as remedial—education before they are able to take credit-bearing courses, particularly at community colleges but also at universities across the state,” said Harrison Keller, UT deputy to the president for strategy and policy.
Paredes said most first-time college students struggle most with math, writing and science.
Keller suggests that students struggle with math because high school seniors are not required to take a math course, giving them an entire year of not using those skills.
“If you take time away from math, it’s like learning a language—you can lose it fairly quickly if you don’t practice,” Keller said.
Brenda Kihl, Collin College executive vice president, said the college is rolling out efforts to prepare students for college, such as expanding its dual-credit program to allow FISD high school students to earn an associate degree while they earn their high school diploma.
As FISD and other school districts seek to repeal the A-F system, state legislators seem to be moving forward with the new system. Some bills that have been filed this legislative session either add indicators to Domain IV or change the wording in the Texas Education Code for the accountability system.
Nye said the definition of postsecondary readiness under Domain IV is too narrow and would like to see more indicators added to broaden the definition.
In a Senate Finance Committee hearing held Jan. 24, Taylor said he would devote part of this session to refining the domains to be better indicators of student performance going forward.