Texas educators give new accountability system ‘F’

Bowie County superintendents blast TEA for 'political maneuvering'

January 12, 2017

Newly-released ratings handed down by the Texas Education Agency last Friday have ignited outrage among Texarkana educators.

School districts and campuses statewide are now subject to letter grade ratings from A–F based on five performance indicators, or “domains,” centered heavily around student performance on standardized testing and other accountability data from two years ago. These are comprised of:

STAAR test results
Test score improvements from year to year
College and career readiness
Closing achievement gaps
Student and community engagement

According to the TEA website, the system was created by the Texas legislature in compliance with 2015’s House Bill 2804, but is set to be implemented in 2018. The TEA hastened to explain that the accountability ratings handed out this past August–either “met standard” or “improvement required”–are still standing for now, citing Friday’s report as a “work-in-progress model.” The website also makes several disclaimers, cautioning the public to make “no inferences” about district and campus performance.

“The report was really intended to be a report to the legislature, based on data from two years ago…it’s a what-if scenario, and it was never intended to be any kind of reflection of school performance,” said District 1 State Representative Gary VanDeaver. “But unfortunately when it became public information… people are taking it and assuming it’s an indication of how schools are performing. This isn’t the case, and I caution people to read into it.”

But the report, complete with overall and categorical grades, reveals a dismal state of affairs for state schools. Texarkana’s public education fared no better–out of all Texarkana ISD schools, only Martha and Josh Morriss Elementary received A’s. Three categorical B’s were given, two to Nash Elementary and one to OPTIONS Academic Alternative High School; grades for all other TISD schools are C’s, D’s and F’s. 

It was just really disappointing, really shocking; in my opinion it’s not a fair representation of what’s going on in a public school.”

— Bettie Stark, Texas High School

When administrators received their first look at the system, they weren’t pleased.

“It was just really disappointing, really shocking; in my opinion it’s not a fair representation of what’s going on in a public school. I think it’s a shock thing to make public schools look bad. This is an A plus school,” said Bettie Stark, Texas High’s Assistant Principal of College and Career Readiness. “We’re doing lots of things, lots of programs, trying to meet everybody’s individual needs and trying to make each kid grow and prosper. We’re not a one size fits all. You just can’t make one system and try to grade a school.”

And at a press conference last Friday, three Texarkana superintendents denounced the rating system and called for public abolishment appeals directed toward local representatives of Texas legislature.

What teachers are concerned about is what they consider the unfairness of such a system.

“How can you tell what anyone’s doing right now based on something from two years ago or a year ago?” said Kim Hayes, a third grade teacher at Morriss Elementary. “I don’t think it’s fair to give any school a letter grade because the government doesn’t take into consideration all the differences in children and their learning styles and their emotional problems and their learning problems. You need to test children on how they learn and not everyone is going to learn at the same rate.” 

How can you tell what anyone’s doing right now based on something from two years ago or a year ago?”

— Kim Hayes, 3rd grade teacher

She adds that a letter grade projects an image of schools that isn’t necessarily accurate.

“It’s just going to make some people look and say ‘I don’t want my child to go there, it’s an F school or it’s a D school’,” Hayes said. “The teachers at those schools are teaching their hearts out and helping those children in the best way that they can…just not all schools have the same dollar amounts to work with.”

A Houston Chronicle data compilation seemingly corroborates this financial discrepancy, showing a strong negative correlation between percentage of low-income students and categorical grades; campuses enrolling the highest number of poor students received mostly D’s and below, which would place them in the overall “unacceptable” category.

The Texas Association of School Administrators has a running list of the districts that have adopted resolutions fighting the A-F accountability system. As of Jan. 11, the total is over 200.

Letter of concern to Texas legislators

While not all local districts have formally adopted resolutions fighting the A-F accountability system, all 13 Bowie County superintendents did band together to sign a letter of concern addressed to the public, entitled “Bowie County Students Deserve Better from Texas Legislators.”

The letter blasts the TEA for “another game of political maneuvering at the cost of our schools and students,” adding that schools never received word that the report would be made public.

It also details faults with the system, calling for more “comprehensive community-based accountability… that looks beyond high-stakes, multiple-choice tests to meaningful assessments that have value for students, parents and teachers, as well as measures what each community deems important in promoting college and career readiness.”

The concern here is that the new policy devalues public education as a whole. What this new system has the potential to do is create a shift outside low-rated schools and toward private or out-of-district schools solely because they were given a higher letter grade. That possibility had largely contributed to the widespread and intense tumult caused by the rating system and subsequent report.

But some educators choose to view the whole affair as little more than an inconvenience.

“I think that the people that deal with our school–parents, kids, community members–know the quality of education that the kids get while they’re here,” said Texas High School history teacher Chuck Zach. “I don’t know that very many of them would understand what the report card’s trying to reflect–or care, to be honest. I think we as school employees care because we think it’s a reflection of our performance or lack of performance, but the reality is anybody that has anything to do with the school district already gets that it is a quality school. I don’t know that four or five letter grades from people who have never been on our campus, never been in our district, bear any weight at all.”

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    Yushin SonjangJan 12, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    I think Texarkana educators should focus on teaching kids rather than complaining about rating system. It there to help the students get decent education from school.