A-F system demoralizing, sets public schools up to fail

By Racey Burden | Published Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Share this page...

The Texas Education Agency notified school districts of their provisional grades under the proposed A-F accountability system Friday, and many Wise County schools were shocked to see “C”s, “D”s and “F”s.

Racey Burden

Racey Burden

The A-F system, which the Texas State Legislature voted to replace the current “met standard” versus “requires improvement” system effective August 2018, has been decried by administrators across Texas, including those in Wise County (for more information on administrative reaction and the A-F system, see “Superintendents furious over school ratings” in the Jan. 7 edition of the Messenger). It’s a political move, they say, designed to prop up Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s insistent push for vouchers and school choice, which would allow parents to move their children from “failing” schools using taxpayer dollars.

Patrick said in a statement Sunday, “If you want to bring about change to our schools, let the parent see ‘C,’ ‘D,’ or ‘F’ on the marquee.”

On a marquee, Dan? Really? You think that’s going to make teachers feel appreciated, to see the place they’ve poured their life into labeled with a failing grade by people who’ve never even been there? You think it’s going to make the kids who can’t afford to switch schools, even with vouchers, feel like they can do great things? I think I’m going to have to agree with the superintendents on this one – this idea is the worst, and it’s all about politics.

I sat in on a meeting between Wise County school administrators and our local representative, Phil King, on Friday, right after these scores were released. It was one of the more tense meetings I’ve ever attended.

The administrators wanted to know why their schools, which all met standard under the current accountability system, received such low marks on the A-F scale. They wanted to know why test scores and absences weigh so much, when parental and community opinion is likely a better judge of a school’s success. They wanted to know why the methodology behind the grading scale is so convoluted (I’ve tried to understand it; I’ve even had it explained to me – I still don’t totally get it). They wanted to know why the legislature is leaning toward school choice, which they worry will cause segregation – the wealthy will flock to private or charter schools, leaving behind those students who can’t afford to move from schools that are labeled as failing, whether they’re actually failing or not.

King didn’t seem to have any answers, other than to say clearly the A-F scale is not working so far.

King, by the way, voted for House Bill 2804, the bill that spawned this new accountability system, though he skirted around that when speaking to the angry superintendents. King was full of reassurances that this was just a trial run, which, to be fair, it was, and that he doesn’t believe the A-F system will be in place in 2018 without going through many changes first. I’ll be curious to see if he actually holds to those reassurances in this year’s legislative session.

But King is just one participant in the show Patrick is running, and Patrick is but a former talk show host. He’s never been an educator. He might mean well with this A-F stuff (though I have my doubts), but why do we let him lead the way when it comes to education in our state? Patrick doesn’t seem to understand the value of public schools.

Just for an example, I cover Bridgeport ISD, which received two “C”s, a “D” and an “F.” I know all the principals there; I interview the students and teachers on a fairly regular basis. They have an awesome bilingual language program for the younger kids, the high school robotics team just competed in the highest level of robotics competition in Texas, the elementary school has a very popular rolling book bus to keep students reading all year round. These are the sort of awesome things, the sort of initiative, that no rating system would take into account – because these systems really only care about test scores. And what educator will say that test scores are the most important indicator of student progress?

I attended Decatur High School as a teenager. DHS received two “C”s and two “D”s under this new system. DHS is not a “C” or a “D” school. I’d like any legislator to sit in on any class taught by Audrey Micinksi or Terry Stewart or Jennifer Smith, and then they can tell me what grades they think these educators deserve to have on the marquee in front of their school. I can tell them that I, as a straight “A” student and all-around total nerd, would have been devastated to walk up to my school every day and see a big “C” or “D” on the outside of the building. It’s demoralizing.

Seventy-five percent of schools rated under the A-F system received “C”s or below. Do we really accept that only 25 percent of Texas schools are “A” or “B” schools? I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe in this system. It’s not accountability, it’s a calculated move by politicians to push forward their own agenda, to say our schools are failing so they get the changes they want passed in legislative session (looking at you, Dan Patrick).

There were more than 5.1 million students in public schools in Texas in 2016. That’s a lot of kids who deserve the best from our state. They’re not getting it from legislators who support a system that wants to see them fail.

Racey Burden is a Messenger reporter.

Leave a Reply. Note: As of March 24, 2011, all posted comments will include the users full name.

WCMessenger.com News and Blog Comment Guidelines

You must be logged in to post a comment.