The preliminary results for the Texas Education Agency’s new A-F accountability rating system that were published Jan. 6 have school districts across the state up in arms, especially the portion of the ratings that measure postsecondary readiness. About 60 percent of the nearly 1,000 school districts in the state received a C, D or F in that category.
In a Senate Finance Committee hearing held Jan. 24, Texas Education Agency 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 had louder criticism.
Morath said although three of the categories, or domains, within the new rating system have clear metrics, the domain that measures postsecondary readiness is a “strange mix of remaining qualifiers that don’t necessarily fit well together.”
The new system is required by 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.
Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said the A-F system will replace the current accountability system that states whether school districts met standards under certain performance indicators.
“In the last session we decided to go to A-F ratings because we wanted something clearer for parents to understand instead of just a word,” he said.
The A-F rating system, which will be 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, TEA spokesperson Lauren Callahan said.
Area school districts, which mostly received A’s and B’s in the first three domains, did not score higher than a C in Domain IV, which measures postsecondary readiness. Carroll ISD scored A’s in the first three domains but scored a C in Domain IV. Grapevine-Colleyville ISD scored an A, B and D in the first three domains, respectively.
Both the CISD and GCISD board of trustees, along with numerous other school districts across the state, passed a resolution in January asking the Legislature to repeal the new A-F rating system.
“We don’t believe the system is an accurate reflection of the job our teachers are doing each and every day in our schools,” CISD Superintendent David Faltys said. “There are so many factors that should be considered when it comes to rating a campus or district, and the simplistic A-F system concentrates too much on one test on one given day. It was designed on a curve so as many as 15 percent of the districts and campuses are predetermined to get a D or F.”
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. The indicators that were not measured for the preliminary ratings but will be used for the ratings in 2018 include the number of students who enlisted in the armed forces and the number of students who earned an industry certification.
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 that was not required before.
Under HB 2804, all campuses are to be graded on postsecondary readiness, but a district’s score only considers 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 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, CISD and GCISD are categorized as “major suburban” school districts, meaning they are located in a county that has a population of at least 900,000. 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 New Boston, Texas, with one elementary school and an enrollment of less than 200 students. Since it has no high schools, the district’s score is based on the absenteeism rate only.
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.
“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. “There’s no certain definition of college readiness. 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.
Domain IV measures SAT scores and students who take AP classes, but it does not specifically measure skills in math, writing or science.
GCISD Superintendent Robin Ryan said the district’s score of a C in Domain IV is not an accurate reflection of the work educators in the district do to prepare students for college.
“GCISD is doing an excellent job in readying our students for the future,” he said. “Beyond being accepted to college, GCISD students are well-prepared to be successful in college: 93 percent of our students persist from their freshman to sophomore year [of college], and 85.4 percent of those enrolled in Texas colleges or universities are not required to take developmental courses.”
Faltys said CISD’s C score in Domain IV is not an indication that CISD’sstudents are not prepared but a reflection of the district not having a coherent sequence of career and technology education courses.
“We absolutely believe our students are college-ready, and there are many factors we can point to, including scores on AP, SAT, ACT, et cetera,” he said. “We have a 100 percent graduation rate, and a high percentage of our students are successful at some of the top colleges across state and nation.”
Despite the fact that school districts across the state are seeking to repeal the A-F rating system, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said A-F will not be repealed or replaced. State legislators seem poised to move forward with the new system.
Some bills that have been filed in this legislative session either add more indicators to Domain IV or slightly change the wording in the Texas Education Code for the accountability system.
Caprigilone said he does not like how the grades are being calculated and will work toward changes.
“What I want to do is have a conversation with the public education chairman and tell them what [people from CISD and GCISD are saying], and say, ‘Hey when you redo these calculations, here are some of the things we want changed.’ I think if they did this formula right—if they could see our kids and how well they are doing and the extracurricular activities they are doing, they would give us A’s—but we have to figure out how to change it so that appropriate scores are given.”