Overall, seven SISD campuses, or 18.9% of all rated campuses in SISD, received F’s in 2018-19—up from three in 2017-18. At the same time, four SISD campuses, or 10.9% of all rated campuses in SISD, received A’s in 2018-19—up from one in 2017-18.
“The backslide performance at the majority of the middle schools and the downgrade of performance at two elementary schools that received an F was the greatest loss,” said Jennifer Cobb, SISD assistant superintendent for research, accountability and testing.
The TEA’s accountability rating system evaluates public schools statewide by annually assigning numerical scores and corresponding A-F letter grades to public school districts and individual campuses. The system was first implemented in 2017-18.
The TEA released 2018-19 ratings Aug. 15 for 1,201 public school districts and charter schools. Based on the results, the percentage of public schools that received A’s and B’s increased statewide, while the percentage of those that received C’s, D’s and F’s decreased.
“Performance continues to improve in Texas schools because of the tireless effort of Texas teachers, administrators and staff,” Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in an Aug. 15 news release. “I am particularly proud of the educators at the 296 high-poverty schools that achieved an A rating.”
However, despite overall rating improvements across the state, local campuses experienced varying degrees of success, forcing districts to build on the success of some campuses while addressing the shortcomings of others through targeted improvement plans.
Locally, SISD’s district rating jumped from 70 in 2017-18 to 78 in 2018-19 while KISD’s rating improved from 85 to 89, and CFISD’s rating remained steady at 89. Despite these gains, SISD had the highest percentage of campuses receive F ratings—or unacceptable performance—of many neighboring districts.
“We are proud of those schools that grew their achievement, especially those who earned an A or B,” SISD Superintendent Rodney Watson said in a statement. “We also recognize that we still have a lot of work to do to ensure all of our schools are providing the best education possible.”
Some SISD campuses saw double-digit rate increases from the 2017-18 school year, while others experienced double-digit rate declines. For example, Link Elementary saw a 24-point increase year over year—a success SISD officials attribute to effective leadership.
“All of our kids deserve to go to an ‘A’ campus,” Link Principal Justin Jones said in a statement. “And so, we have to make sure we’re giving them everything we can.”
Additionally, three of the four SISD schools that received A ratings are schools of choice, meaning students apply to attend those campuses, which offer specialty programming.
Compared with neighboring districts, no KISD campus received less than a C—or acceptable performance—and only one CFISD campus received a D—or in need of improvement.
At the same time, 5% of Aldine ISD campuses and 7.7% of Houston ISD campuses received F’s. While education officials across the state claimed the new accountability system favored rich districts when the system was first implemented, both Aldine and Houston ISDs had higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students in 2018-19 than SISD.
However, each of SISD’s F-rated campuses had a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students than the state average of 60.6%. in 2018-19.
Plans for improvement
Campuses that receive a D or F rating have to produce and implement a targeted improvement plan, Cobb said. F-rated campuses also have to submit those plans to the TEA for review and monitoring and are required to have an effective school framework consultant to assist campus officials with ensuring they are implementing effective school framework strategies.
Cobb said F-rated campuses that do not show improvement will have additional TEA monitoring that increases with additional years of failure.
While all D- and F-rated campuses in SISD have already submitted and had their targeted improvement plans approved by the board of trustees, Cobb said the district has been working to improve its middle school level long before receiving the 2018-19 ratings through its Lift 6 initiative, which aims to improve SISD middle schools, of which five campuses received F’s. The program began with a listening tour by Watson in 2018-19, and the Lift 6 initiative was implemented in August.
SISD Director of Communications Karen Garrison said the initiative uses best practices from successful schools nationwide, many of which align with effective school framework strategies.
“We understand that middle school can be a difficult transition for students,” Garrison said. “We’re now doing more to support both our students and staff to create a learning environment that is designed for young adolescents.”
At the Oct. 8 SISD board of trustees meeting, the board also approved $4.2 million in middle school investments, including $2.5 million to reduce the middle school student-to-teacher ratio from 30-1 to 28-1, as well as funding to purchase new desks, expand parent-engagement efforts, increase substitute teacher pay and explore specialty programming. Additionally, Garrison said the district now has two assistant superintendents dedicated solely to supporting staff at the middle school level.
Chief Academic Officer Linda Macias likewise said CFISD has implemented similar strategies at Bane Elementary School—the one campus that received a D rating. Those strategies include smaller class sizes and extended instructional day for some students.
While KISD is not working to improve any D- or F-rated campuses, Superintendent Jenny McGown said the district is tackling the Closing the Gaps domain—which is one of the factors that goes into a district or campus’s overall accountability rating. The domain looks at how well different groups of students, such as those who are of a certain race or income level, are performing.
As the TEA’s A-F system is still in its infancy, school district officials said they believe the system as it is structured leaves room for improvement.
According to the TEA, 70% of the accountability rating is based on Student Achievement, which measures performance on state assessments, and/or School Progress, which shows campus improvement year over year. The remaining 30% is based on Closing the Gaps, which reflects gains among economically disadvantaged students—of which SISD had 70.1% in 2018-19.
“A greater emphasis on equity will make the accountability rating system more reflective of how schools and districts are doing,” Garrison said.
Macias likewise said CFISD officials believe the ratings rely too heavily on the results of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests.
“As long as the accountability system is heavily dependent on STAAR data ... the great accomplishments of our students are not accurately reflected by a single letter grade,” Macias said.