New school accountability system is flawed, education experts say

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 measures postsecondary readiness. About 60 percent of the nearly 1,000 school districts in the state received a grade of C, D or F in that category.


In a Senate Finance Committee hearing held Jan. 24, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike 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.”




Local District Ratings On Jan. 6, the Texas Education Agency published preliminary ratings under its new A-F rating system.[/caption]

The new rating 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.


The A-F system will replace the current accountability system that simply states whether school districts met standards under certain performance indicators. The A-F rating system, which will be fully 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 and reflect a system that is a work in progress, TEA spokesperson Lauren Callahan said.


Out of 14 Travis County school districts, only four received higher than a C in Domain IV, which measures postsecondary readiness. Austin ISD scored B’s in both Domain I and II, but it scored a C in Domain III and a D in Domain IV.


The AISD board of trustees, following the lead of numerous other school districts across the state, voted Dec. 19 to pass a resolution calling for legislators to the repeal the A-F system.


“I would impress upon the Legislature to define the purpose of this [A-F rating system],” said Kendall Pace, AISD board president and Place 9 trustee, following the vote. “It feels more punitive than it is supportive.”


Debbie Gillespie, regional director on the board for the Texas Association of School Boards, agreed that the system needs fine-tuning.




Scoring the Schools Schools were scored based on points awarded to each campus by the TEA in each of the four graded domains. As part of the rating system, each of the numbers were added up to give campuses a comprehensive numeric score. The TEA assigns more points for higher grades; therefore, higher numbers represent better grades for schools. The maximum scores for each grade level are a follows:
Elementary school: 221.8 or greater
Middle school: 213.6 or greater
High school/K-12: 210.5 or greater
The schools listed here scored the highest in Central Austin at their respective levels. This list of elementary schools is not comprehensive.[/caption]

“We are not afraid of accountability at all,” Gillespie said. “I think that’s part of what has made public education better. But it needs to be fair, and it needs to be meaningful.”


Out of the 150 school districts that received an A rating in Domain IV, more than two-thirds of them are categorized as “rural,” or having less than 300 students, school districts by the TEA. By comparison, AISD is categorized as a “major urban” school district, meaning its enrollment is the largest in its county, and at least 35 percent of its enrolled students are economically disadvantaged.


Because of the differences of the socioeconomic makeup of Texas school districts, Vanessa Dainton, former AISD teacher, current AISD parent and vice president of the Austin Council of PTAs, suggested a more suitable alternative would be to allow districts to develop their own accountability systems based on the values and priorities of its community.


“I definitely think that would be more in line with trying to make it more of a balance, which I think AISD and [AISD] families would value more,” she said.


The Austin Council of PTAs has not taken a stance on the A-F accountability system.



Next steps


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.


During the Senate Finance Committee hearing held Jan. 24, state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, 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 comment to Community Impact
Newspaper
.


Additional reporting by Emily Donaldson




A-F rating system how it works During the 2015 Texas legislative session, the state Legislature passed House Bill 2804, which changed the state’s accountability system for public school districts and their campuses. The new system gives districts and schools a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F in five domains as well as an overall letter grade.[/caption]
By Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.