Northeast Tarrant

Viral blog: ‘What my kids have learned going to an ‘F’ school!’

Robert Thornell is the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Northwest schools. The father of three questioned Texas’ new accountability model in a personal blog.
Robert Thornell is the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Northwest schools. The father of three questioned Texas’ new accountability model in a personal blog. Northwest school district

Robert Thornell is a father first and an educator second.

And like many school administrators in Texas, he is not a fan of the state’s A-through-F accountability system. A provisional report on the system was released Friday, setting off a flurry of complaints from educators.

An essay Thornell wrote, titled “What my kids have learned going to an ‘F’ school!”, went viral and has received more than 500,000 hits since being posted on Jan. 5.

“I’m shocked,” siad Thornell, a father of three and the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Northwest school district, “I have heard from people all over the country.”

The “A-F” system, set to take effect in August 2018, would grade schools and school districts in five “domains” — student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps, postsecondary readiness, and community and student engagement. The state’s current accountability system gives campuses and districts one of two ratings: “met standard” or “improvement required.”

Critics say the new system is flawed because it relies too much on STAAR results, which they say only offer a single-day snapshot of student performance. They also worry that the new system is weighted against low-income students and that it is a political manipulation designed to usher in a voucher program.

“It is hard for me to believe that those with very limited knowledge of schools could have the audacity to create a system that they can’t even explain and give grades without providing promised support,” Thornell wrote in his blog.

Thornell’s blog was circulated via word-of-mouth and shared on social media.

Thornell has a fourth-grade student at Seven Hills Elementary School and two children at Chisholm Trial Middle School in the Northwest school district. Both schools received some low marks in the state’s provisional — or “what if” — report. Seven Hills received a C, D, F and C. Chisholm Trail received a B, C, D and C.

Thornell said these grades don’t tell the whole story of student successes on those campuses, including how his son was able to work on a global problem solving competition with friends and classmates of diverse backgrounds. He said too many times the public hears about the failures and don’t have a complete picture of the learning taking place.

Thornell said he will be telling his story and sharing his concerns in upcoming days at a conference in Austin. He is also telling others to speak up for schools.

“Share your story, please share your story,” he said.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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

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