Texas Education Agency’s A-F accountability ratings reveal link to poverty

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Texas school districts and campuses received state accountability ratings this fall from the Texas Education Agency, and campuses in Tomball and Magnolia ISDs appear to be in line with a statewide trend that some educators say is cause for concern.

More affluent campuses within Tomball and Magnolia ISDs fared better than those with high levels of economic disadvantage in 2017-18, according to a Community Impact Newspaper analysis of the districts’ campuses. Although all campuses within the two districts earned the Met Standard label, schools where less than 20 percent of students were economically disadvantaged averaged a 93 rating, and those with more than 50 percent economically disadvantaged populations averaged a 78.

Across Texas, 58.7 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged, meaning they qualify for reduced-price or free lunches or other public assistance. In TISD, 21.8 percent of students fall into this category.

In MISD, 44.2 percent of students are economically disadvantaged.

Under the TEA’s new A-F accountability rating system that was implemented for districts in 2017-18, TISD received an overall A rating, while MISD received an overall B rating.

“It’s been shown for years that … standardized tests favor students that are from more affluent families,” said Anita Hebert, MISD assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “That’s one of the problems [with]trying to rate a school just on standardized tests. I think that [trend is]going to continue to play out.”

Rating districts

A-F scores are calculated based on the evaluation of three areas—Student Achievement, School Progress and Closing the Gaps. Seventy percent of the score is made up of either its Student Achievement or School Progress score—whichever is higher—and 30 percent of the score consists of its Closing the Gap score, which measures progress among economically disadvantaged students, according to the TEA.

Student Achievement reflects performance on state assessments, and School Progress measures improvement from year to year.

A similar system is used to identify scores for campuses, although letter ratings will not be implemented for campuses until next year.

Children at Risk, a Houston-based research organization focused on children’s issues in Texas, has found a relationship between raw achievement scores and economic disadvantage but has not determined whether it believes the TEA system is unfair, said David McClendon, co-director of the organization’s Research Center for Social Measurement and Evaluation.

Five of six MISD campuses with more than 50 percent economic disadvantage scored less than 80, TEA data shows.

TEA officials have defended the new system, which is designed to communicate a district’s annual progress in straightforward language more easily understood than the previous ratings, said Lauren Callahan, TEA media relations and social media manager.

“We know that while there may be a moderate factor between a child’s economically disadvantaged status and results, we here at the agency know there is not a strong relationship between the two,” she said.

High-performing schools

Despite the trend for economically disadvantaged schools receiving lower ratings, there are exceptions. Although MISD’s Smith Elementary exceeded the state’s average for economic disadvantage, the campus earned a 92 rating, according to TEA data. Additionally, while Williams Elementary had the highest economic disadvantage rate in MISD, the campus did not receive the lowest accountability rating.

“We do believe that schools can outperform the curve with high-quality instruction, that we can teach students from poverty to be educationally competent. And that’s what we put as our work every day,” Hebert said.

Hebert said quality leadership and high expectations are to credit for MISD schools outperforming the curve.

“It’s not about test prep. It’s about kids achieving,” she said. “We really focus on the individual and helping him [or her]to continue moving forward.”

In TISD, Decker Prairie Elementary School earned a 92 rating despite 41 percent economic disadvantage.

TISD was one of just 153 districts and charter schools to earn an overall A for 2017-18, according to the TEA. However, of all TISD campuses, just Tomball Elementary School had more than 50 percent economic disadvantage.

“With rapid growth and ever-increasing expectations, we have really tried to keep ourselves focused and trained…to do the job right the first time, and if we don’t get the results we intended, to immediately respond to those needs,” TISD Executive Director of Academics Mark White said.

District officials said they believe new aspects of the A-F system—such as relative performance and college readiness—will help score schools more equitably in future years, regardless of affluence. Hebert said considering college, career and military readiness factors as part of student achievement—in addition to test scores—boosts scores for high schools under the new system.

“Relative performance holds districts and campuses accountable for how well their lower income students perform compared directly to the average performance of other campuses and districts with the same percentage of low-income students,” White said.

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Anna Dembowski
Anna joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. In July 2017, she transitioned to editor. Anna covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in the Tomball and Magnolia communities. Prior to CI, Anna served as editor-in-chief of Cedars, interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., and spent time writing for the Springfield News-Sun and Xenia Daily Gazette.
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