Texas’ new A-F accountability rating system ignites controversy, local school boards support repeal


The preliminary results for the Texas Education Agency’s new A-F accountability rating system, which were published Jan. 6, has school districts across the state calling for its repeal.

School district administrators and boards of trustees have vocalized dissent for A-F rankings as 466 districts have adopted resolutions calling for the repeal of the new accountability system. Included in that group are Alvin and Friendswood ISDs.

Districts speak up

The new accountability system grades districts and their campuses similar to a report card grade—on an A through F scale—which is calculated based on five domains: Student Achievement, Student Progress, Closing Performance Gaps, Postsecondary Readiness, and Community and Student Engagement.A-F system ignites controversy

“The A-F rating system was proclaimed as a way to provide parents and community members with a simple system that provides increased clarity regarding campus and student performance. Unfortunately, as the system has been designed, it does not provide clarity and is anything but simple,” Alvin ISD Superintendent Buck Gilcrease said.

Gilcrease pointed out that an elementary school in the district that received a distinction for “closing performance gaps,” now called Domain III, last year under the previous accountability system received a C this year in the same domain.

Education Commissioner Mike Morath said he has heard “buckets” of feedback on the ratings, adding the preliminary results were for informational purposes, and should “not be considered predictors of future district or campus performance ratings.”

FISD Superintendent Trish Hanks said the concern is not accountability but rather transparency and the complexity of the new system, which she said legislators promised would be easy to understand.


“The problem is the rubric. The domains and the criteria they use to try to determine the grades is not easy,” Hanks said. “It’s not transparent.”

Pearland ISD Superintendent John Kelly said while he understands many of the issues and concerns, he is not ready to give up on the entire system.

“I do think that standardized tests have a place in the accountability system,” Kelly said. “I also believe that some of the other things they are looking at like student progress, year-to-year graduation rates, dropout rates and postsecondary readiness are all very valid parts of an accountability system.”

To date, PISD trustees have not discussed a resolution in support of repealing the A-F system.

The A-F system, which will be fully implemented in 2018, replaces the existing accountability system, which simply rates districts and their campuses as Met Standard or Improvement Required along with distinctions in seven academic and student performance indicators.

Districts and campuses were already given individual scores in those four domains under the previous accountability system.

College readiness

Of the five domains used to calculate each district’s letter grade, Domain IV has caused the
greatest shakeup.graphic

More than 60 percent of the nearly 1,000 school districts statewide received a C, D or F letter grade in Domain IV, which measures postsecondary readiness.

Johnny Veselka, Texas Association of School Administrators executive director, has advocated against A-F as well as other hot-button issues like high-stakes testing. TASA is an Austin-based education advocacy group that consists of superintendents, district and college administrators, and companies across the state.

“You have districts that have 90 or 95 percent of their students going to college, and they’re getting a C or a D in college readiness,” Veselka said. “That’s difficult to explain to a community.”

Domain IV looks at three factors for high schools: graduation rates, quality of graduation plans and the percentage of students who graduate “ready for college, career or the military,” according to the TEA. The latter factor is calculated through military enlistment figures, career and technical education courses or industry certifications, or college readiness factors, such as SAT scores, students in dual credit and Advanced Placement courses and academic achievement.

The indicators that were not measured for the January preliminary ratings but will be used in the final ratings in 2018 include the number of students who enlisted in the armed forces and the number of students who earned an industry certification.

At the elementary level, chronic absenteeism is the sole metric used for Domain IV, and at the middle school level, chronic absenteeism and dropout rates are used.

While all campuses are graded on postsecondary readiness, a district’s score in Domain IV is based on its high schools in most cases.

Domain IV ratings may change by 2018 because the TEA did not have all the data required under House Bill 2804. The bill requires the TEA to gather data the agency was not required to gather before.

From the Capital

Despite the fact that school districts across the state are seeking to appeal the A-F rating system, state officials have come out in support of the bill.

Some bills that have been filed in this legislative session either add more indicators to Domain IV or slightly change the wording in the law for the accountability system. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said A-F will not be repealed or replaced.

“I have faith that he will listen to all of the suggestions and complaints and forge [the rankings]to be better,” Kelly said. “I also believe [Lt. Gov.] Dan Patrick that it isn’t going away. I hope it truly reflects what we should be held accountable for by the time it is finalized.”

In a statement, state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Pearland, who sponsored HB 2804, also said the new system is not going away.

“I can’t speak for other members of the Legislature, but from my perspective as the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, there is no movement toward the repeal of A-F, and I’ve heard Lt. Governor Patrick firmly state that A-F is here to stay,” Taylor said. “I do not plan to entertain the idea of a repeal because I believe in the goal of the program and the transparency of the system. However, I have been listening to input from administrators, parents, and other stakeholders and I plan to file legislation to improve the system if necessary.”

Additional reporting by Emily Donaldson and Lindsey Juarez

A-F bills filed in the 85th Texas Legislature

A handful of bills have been filed during this legislative session regarding the A-F rating system. Here are some of the first bills filed:

House Bill 843

Replaces the A, B, C, D and F letter grades with “exemplary, recognized, acceptable and needs improvement” ratings. This bill was filed by Mary Gonzalez on Jan. 5.

House Bill 1057

Adds more indicators to Domain IV, such as: the percentage of students who have been promoted to a higher grade level or earned a diploma after three or fewer years in high school. This bill was filed by Senfronia Thompson on Jan. 17.

House Bill 1174

Adds another indicator to Domain IV: the percentage of students who complete an OnRamps dual-enrollment course. This bill was filed by Gina Hinojosa on Jan. 19.


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