A-F ratings spur call for system change


A-F ratings spur call for system changeThe 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 concerned, especially about the portion of the ratings that measures postsecondary readiness.

In a Senate Finance Committee hearing Jan. 24, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said he has heard “buckets” of feedback regarding the A-F system. He said there has been a small, quiet group in support of the evaluation, but a multitude of others providing negative criticisms.

“My concern is that it creates an inaccurate picture,” Conroe ISD Superintendent Don Stockton said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of discussion during the legislative session, so I’m confident that they’re going to get a lot of feedback and make a good decision about the future of it.”

A new system

The new rating system is required by House Bill 2804, which was passed during the 2015 Texas legislative session. The bill required the TEA to present an informational report to the state Legislature by Jan. 1.

The new A-F rating system, which will be fully implemented in 2018, will give districts and 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.A-F ratings spur call for system change

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.

CISD received an A in Domain II, a B in domains I and III and a C in Domain IV, according to the TEA data.

“Conroe [ISD], I think, fared very well overall, but it’s very confusing when you try and pair down what goes into each of the domains,” CISD board President Melanie Bush said.

Bush said she has spoken with local legislators about how ineffective and complicated the new system seems. Some districts like Klein ISD have already presented a resolution asking for the repeal of the system, Bush said. However, CISD does not have a plan to present a resolution of its own.

“I think [a resolution]is something that we’re going to be discussing,” Bush said. “But I think we’re also waiting to see what happens in the beginning parts of [the legislative]session to see if they realize where they are
on this.”

In neighboring school district Tomball ISD, which has campuses in the Village of Creekside Park in The Woodlands, Superintendent Huey Kinchen said he is also concerned about the new rating system. TISD received A’s in domains I and II, a B in Domain III and a C in Domain IV.

“School officials across Texas, including Tomball, are concerned about these ratings because they are based upon old data and cannot be regarded as a reliable benchmark for accountability,” Kinchen said.

Officials with the Texas Association of School Boards said they are not concerned by the accountability of the A-F system.

“We are not afraid of accountability at all,” said Debbie Gillespie, a regional director on the board 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.”

Calculating Domain IV

Morath said although three of the categories within the new rating system have clear metrics, Domain IV—which measures postsecondary readiness—is a strange mix of remaining qualifiers that do not necessarily fit well together.

“It reads more like anything the commissioner can think of except for the STAAR test,” he said.

More than 60 percent of the nearly 1,000 school districts that received a grade in Domain IV received a C, D or F, according to the TEA. Conroe and Tomball ISDs both received C’s in this domain while Magnolia ISD received
a D.

Domain IV studies 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.A-F ratings spur call for system change

To measure college and career readiness, several indicators are considered, including SAT and ACT scores, postsecondary credits earned and the number of students who took Advanced Placement courses.

Callahan said the Domain IV ratings may change by 2018 because the TEA did not have all the data required under HB 2804. The bill requires the TEA to gather data it was not required to collect previously.

Under HB 2804, all campuses are to be graded on postsecondary readiness. However, each district’s overall score will only reflect its high schools in most cases. Districtwide Domain IV scores are determined by combining all of the district’s high school students into one calculation.

Domain IV scores for elementary schools are determined by the number of students who are chronically absent, and middle school scores are determined by the absenteeism rate as well as the dropout rate.

The problem with determining whether students are ready for college-level courses is that there is no common definition for college readiness, said Raymund Paredes, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board commissioner of higher education.A-F ratings spur call for system change

“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,” Paredes said. “There’s no certain definition of college readiness.”

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.

Next steps

Although school districts across the state have adopted resolutions to repeal the A-F rating system, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the system would not be repealed or replaced. CISD officials said similar implemented systems have been repealed in other states.A-F ratings spur call for system change

“I think we’ve found in all of the states that have done this previously, that it has not worked,” Bush said. “We have 15 other states that utilize this type of system, and none have shown it to truly be that effective. Virginia recently repealed it. That says something.”

Bills filed to date during this legislative session either add more indicators to Domain IV or slightly change the wording in the Education Code for the accountability system. In a statement, state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, who sponsored HB 2804, said the system is not going away.

“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.”

During the Senate Finance Committee hearing Jan. 24, Taylor said he would devote part of this session to refining the domains so they would be better indicators of student performance going forward.

The primary author of HB 2804, former Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, retired in 2015. The joint bill author, Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Emily Donaldson and Anna Dembowski

*Lamar Elementary School in Conroe ISD received B’s in Domains I-III and a D in Domain IV. This score was mistakenly left out in print.

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Beth Marshall
Born and raised in Montgomery County, Beth Marshall graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in communication and a minor in business. Originally hired as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in 2016, she became editor of the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition in October 2017.
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