Working toward passing grade; Schools give mixed reviews on accountability system

By Racey Burden | Published Wednesday, June 7, 2017

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Both chambers of the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 22, which revises the A-F accountability system for public schools, at the end of regular session in May.

As of this Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott has yet to sign the bill into law, but educators are still expecting it to be implemented. They gave mixed reviews on the new legislation.

“In my opinion, the concept is still flawed,” Alvord Superintendent Dr. Randy Brown said. “A-F is designed to rank districts based on test scores. That ranking in itself is going to place more emphasis on testing, which is a step back.”

School districts across Texas opposed the A-F system when the first provisional ratings were released by the Texas Education Agency in January. The outcry against the system was such that legislators decided to review and rework it. Many local districts joined in signing a resolution drafted by the Texas Association of School Boards to condemn A-F accountability ratings.

“I think because of that resolution you saw both the House and Senate realize they had to go back and make some changes,” Boyd Superintendent Ted West said. “I think they definitely heard our voices through that A-F resolution. I feel that was effective, and I’m glad our board chose to adopt that and hopefully we’ll have a less punitive form of accountability.”

While the original A-F accountability ratings graded schools and districts in five categories, HB 22 cuts that down to three – student achievement, student progress and closing performance gaps. Postsecondary readiness and community engagement will no longer be graded, though postsecondary readiness will be incorporated into the remaining categories.

Administrators concede that they feel the new bill is an improvement.

“On the surface it appears that it’s made it not so heavily dependent on standardized tests, although those things are still there,” West said.

“On the first appearance from everything we’ve seen it does sound like it’s definitely a step in the right direction as far as improving it. We’ve still got lots of question marks.”

Those question marks are in place because the bill was pushed through the legislature so quickly.

“We didn’t have a whole lot of input in a whole lot of those changes in regards to the discussion or the deliberation. Usually we find out from hearing about those deliberations,” West said. “That’s when the representatives will reach out to us to get our opinion on it. This all happened so quickly, so I guess there wasn’t a lot of time to get that done.”

Local legislators, State Rep. Phil King and State Sen. Craig Estes, voted in favor of HB 22, which unanimously passed the House and passed the Senate 28-3. A conference committee report on the legislation unanimously passed both chambers.

Even proponents of the A-F system chastised lawmakers for not giving the public enough time to review and give feedback on HB 22.

“There are necessary tweaks to be made to our A-F system, and the Legislature is clearly trying to address those. However, giving the public virtually no time to review or weigh in on this last-minute proposal is troubling,” said Courtney Boswell, executive director of Texas Aspires, a non-profit group which vocally supported the original A-F system.

“Texas students deserve a measured approach to fixing our accountability system instead of hastily passing an unvetted system that may create unintended consequences.”

TASB, which opposed A-F accountability, has not released a statement on HB 22 at this time.

Educators stress they’re still concerned that the A-F system relies too heavily on test scores. Elementary and middle schools will be the most heavily graded based on State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) results, with high schools rated on testing, graduation rates and the number of students taking advanced classes.

Administrators are also concerned by the possibility of grade shaming for schools that don’t receive stellar marks. Brown believes that A-F accountability will most adversely affect districts with large economically disadvantaged populations and keep good teachers out of those schools.

“Think about those campuses that get a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ rating,” Brown said. “The thought is those staff members are going to be motivated to try harder, but that’s simply not the case.

“It’s trying to shame them into trying hard. They’re already trying hard.”

HB 22 does give school districts an opportunity to design their own accountability system to make up a portion of their grade. Education Commissioner Mike Morath must authorize the creation of a local accountability system.

David Talley contributed to this report.

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