Fort Worth

Educators not happy with ‘what if’ report using A-F grades

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath outlined a new schools accountability model that will give campuses and school districts A through F ratings.
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath outlined a new schools accountability model that will give campuses and school districts A through F ratings. Star-Telegram archives

A new accountability system that will feature A through F ratings for public schools will be unveiled in August 2018, but a provisional ratings report that is being released online Friday is flawed, educators say.

The current accountability system gives campuses and districts one of two ratings: “met standard” or “improvement required.”

But during the last legislative session, state lawmakers passed House Bill 2804, which calls for the education commissioner to adopt rules to evaluate schools and districts and assign each with a performance rating of letter grades — A, B, C, D or F.

“It is very much a work-in-progress report,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath explained during a roundtable with education reporters in December.

A provisional — or “what if” — accountability report on the state’s more than 8,600 public schools was drafted for state lawmakers and will be available for public viewing Friday on the TEA website.

While advocates argue that the A-F system is more traditional and easier for students and parents to understand, others contend that the system is not fair, and that poverty plays a bigger role than performance in determining grades.

Many school districts have been vocal in their opposition and plan to take that message to lawmakers in Austin when the 85th legislative session begins next week.

It is what it is — a test. It is not reflective of the current situation.

Kent Scribner, Fort Worth superintendent

The Texas Association of School Administrators is calling for its repeal and is asking school boards to pass a resolution that “calls on the Texas Legislature to repeal the rating system utilizing A through F grades for schools and districts and develop a community-based accountability system that empowers school districts to design their own internal systems of assessment and accountability that, while meeting general state standards, allows districts to innovate and customize curriculum and instruction to meet the needs and interests of each student and their communities.”

Through Wednesday, 142 Texas school boards had adopted opposition resolutions, according to TASA.

The immediate concern is that the provisional report is based largely on results from STAAR tests and will not give an accurate picture of how schools are performing.

“Our concern is that we still don’t trust the STAAR test. There was so many problems with it last year,” said Theresa Treviño, president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment.

Kent Scribner, superintendent of Fort Worth schools, said the upcoming report relies on “old data.”

“It is what it is — a test. It is not reflective of the current situation,” Scribner said.

Marcelo Cavazos, superintendent of Arlington schools, said the report will simply provide a snapshot of how students are doing.

“It is an assessment that students take,” Cavazos said. “We know that a student’s school experience and school district experience is much broader than a state assessment. … There are many things such as fine arts, extracurricular activities, career preparation, advanced studies and community services that make up a student’s school experience.”

Some districts have gone to social media to try and explain the complexities of the provisional report.

On Tuesday, the Birdville school district posted an explanation — and its concerns — on its Facebook page, saying: “It is important to remember, these are just sample ratings based on flawed data from the 2016 STAAR tests.”

“Birdville ISD, along with school districts across the state, opposes this A–F rating system which is clouded by complicated rules and calculations rather than clear and concise data that everyone can understand,” the post states. “The legislature does not want a community-based accountability system. Instead, they want a rating system that appears to be simple, but in fact, includes … complicated data formulations that will not truly reflect the quality of a school or district.”

Get to know the term ‘domain’

Once the system is in place, schools will receive A-F ratings in five performance areas, which are being called “domains.” Schools and district will receive a grade for each domain and a cumulative grade that will be based on scores from the five domains.

Morath said he has been meeting with superintendents to explain how the system is being developed and that the “what if” report will include A-F grades on only four of the five domains for each campus — making the report incomplete.

Neither schools nor districts will receive a cumulative grade in the provisional report and Morath said school districts and parents should not try to use the domain grades to predict an overall letter grade.

The domain areas are student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps, post-secondary readiness, and community and student engagement.

Development of the new accountability system will continue until spring 2018, when the final rules will be adopted. The first round of official results from the A-F system will be released in August 2018.

Student engagement is a measure defined by local school districts and worth 10 percent of the total grade. It could include three out of a list of measures that include educational programs for gifted and talented, dropout recovery or parental involvement.

STAAR test results will be factored into the formulas of the domains of student achievement, student progress and closing performance gaps, according to the Texas Education Agency.

First results come in 2018

Development of the new accountability system will continue until spring 2018, when the final rules will be adopted, according to the TEA.

The first round of official results from the A-F system will be released in August 2018.

Educators are quick to point out that the “what if” report should not be confused with the 2017 state accountability ratings that will be released in August of this year.

It is very much a work-in-progress report.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath

The current accountability system takes into account several factors: passing rates on State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, student progress, closing achievement gaps, and college and career readiness.

This past school year, the percentage of districts that “met standard” held steady at about 94 percent.

Struggling area schools

The Texas Education Agency recently released its list of schools subject to the Public Education Grant program. The program allows parents of children in schools listed on the PEG list to request transfers to other schools or school districts in the following school year. Here are the Fort Worth area schools on the list sorted by school districts.
 

The Fort Worth school district had 22 campuses in the “improvement required” list, while Arlington and Crowley had two each.

State law provides for sanctions for low-performing schools, including closure and state takeover, but it’s not clear what sanctions will be in place for the new system.

This article contains information from Star-Telegram archives.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

State Sen. Konni Burton and State Rep. Chris Turner talk about their views on the upcoming legislative effort to change the way schools are funded in Texas.

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