It’s coming, an A through F label on every school campus near you. So, what’s the big deal?
In 2015, lawmakers passed a school accountability bill (House Bill 2804) that included the controversial labeling of every campus with an A through F grade. On one side, there are those who believe a single letter grade is the best way to inform the public about how well schools are performing. Others believe this type of labeling is too simplistic, misleading, and counterproductive to the support of public education. The A through F details are still being worked out in Austin. We can expect implementation in 2017.
Public schools educate students with attributes and abilities of every kind. There are too many variables to justify a single letter as the best way to represent the performance of an entire school campus.
Labeling a campus with a letter grade creates a false impression about an entire neighborhood of children. A campus labeled with the letter "A" promotes the idea that an overwhelming majority of students make A’s and the campus is anointed with a gold seal of approval by the State of Texas. On the other hand, a campus labeled with an "F" will be viewed as inferior with failing students, teachers, and administrators – punitive in nature. Let’s not forget the real purpose for an accountability system; to recognize successes and improve areas of concern – not punish.
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The feature of labeling schools with a letter grade is just the surface of a much larger and complicated Texas school accountability system. One aspect involves hard data and reports. The Texas Education Agency provides an entire section titled, Performance Reporting Division. Data of every imaginable kind is sliced and diced to produce columns of numbers representing outcomes at the campus, region, and state level. This data represents children of every age, ethnicity, ability and more.
Did you know there are at least seven reports ready for parent consumption at the TEA’s website? If that is not enough, you can jump up to the federal level. My concern is not the number of reports, it is the complexity and the lack of strategic purpose.
It’s almost to the point that a caution statement is needed as a preface to the data; "Warning – Statistics Degree and Doctorate in Education Required to Understand Performance Reports." In summary, it is information overload for any parent.
We need to find a better way to streamline the data and educate the public. Swinging the pendulum to the opposite end and stamping schools with an A through F label is not the answer.
When it comes to educating children, no one is arguing against a system that shows how well our schools are doing. School boards and superintendents have a duty to share this information – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Equally important, this data should be provided in a clear and meaningful way.
School districts are taking a proactive approach to learn what parents and community leaders find important in their local schools. Districts like Denton ISD, Alief ISD, and San Antonio’s Northside ISD are aggressively pursuing these partnerships for student success. Campus goals become more realistic and high stakes testing less emphasized. Parents become better partners in the education of their children. Local school performance is better understood and valued.
I think they’re on to something…the real answer to how well our schools are doing is found in the word "engagement" – not a label. A new future is upon us. Make education a priority.
Bobby J Rigues is an Aledo ISD School Trustee, TASB Board of Director & Master Trustee, and Make Education a Priority, Inc. founder and CEO