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Across Texas, Schools Criticize Education Agency's New A-F Report Cards

The Texas Education Agency is assigning preliminary letter grades to schools as part of a new A-through-F system.

Texas school districts and campuses received their own report cards Friday from the Texas Education Agency, and many school officials aren’t pleased with the results or the new grading system.

The Texas Education Agency is assigning preliminary letter grades to schools as part of a new A-through-F system. The new grades won't go into effect until August 2018. The new grading system replaces the current pass-fail setup, which rates schools as either "met standard" or "needs improvement.” Schools and districts are now being graded on student test scores, how much progress students are making on tests, closing achievement gaps, as well as college and career readiness.

The Dallas Morning News reports some North Texas districts, including Mesquite, Wylie and Cedar Hill, have earned an F in at least one of those categories. Other districts got at least one C, including Highland Park, Plano and Allen. Dallas ISD got a D in student performance and B's in three other categories.

Even high-performing schools received low grades through the new system. Dallas' Woodrow Wilson High School, one of the district's top traditional high schools, received C's across the board.

Reaction from schools

Across Texas, at least 150 school districts have approved resolutions calling for state lawmakers to repeal the new system.

Irving ISD also has a "Met Standard" rating based on the pass-fail system, but the "what-if" grades show two C's, a B and D for the district. According to a press release from the district, Irving ISD's Board of Trustees may consider adopting a resolution "that addresses its position on the new accountability system." 

Here's a statement from Irving's superintendent, José Parra:

“We have no fear of accountability because we are always looking to improve as a district and we are focused on doing everything possible to maximize each student’s potential. But I believe we need both accountability and an accountability system that is fair and logical in its methodologies. We need a system that accurately reflects student learning and growth.”   

Richardson ISD superintendent Jeannie Stone also has concerns about the new accountability system. Stone says the A-F system has been attempted and has failed elsewhere.

Stone issued the following statement:

“I don’t feel the A-F system will give parents and community members anything close to an accurate idea of how schools are performing. Assigning a letter grade, based substantially on the outcome of a standardized test taken on one day of the year, simply can’t capture the year-long efforts of students, teachers, principals and everyone who supports teaching and learning. Entire schools and communities will be painted with the brush of a single letter grade, even though individual students perform across a wide range of achievement levels on a number of different indicators."

In a statement, DeSoto ISD superintendent David Harris said the new grading system is part of a “continued attack on public schools.” The district received an F in student performance and in preparing kids for life after high school, according to the Morning News.

The Texas Association of School Boards calls the new system a "flawed concept" and that the preliminary ratings offer no "meaningful information about schools." The board calls the ratings a "symptom of the larger sickness," the sickness being an "unhealthy fixation" on standardized testing and expectations.

Here's the rest of the statement sent from the board:

"There are 1,028 school districts in Texas, and no two are exactly the same. Trying to apply the same accountability measures primarily based on one standardized test is a disservice to our kids, their families, and our educators.
"It’s time the armchair educators stop trying to find new ways to sell tests, test preparation, and test administration. It’s time to consider our students and schools as more than just a grade." 

Superintendents and school board presidents from Region 10, which covers several North Texas counties, will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Monday at Garland school district's Curtis Culwell Center. In addition to outlining their priorities for the upcoming Legislative session, education leaders will voice concerns over the A-F grading system.

System is a work in progress

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath says the new grading system is a work in progress and that the goal is to give families a better understanding of how their schools are performing.

According to the Texas Tribune, Morath said the proposed models for calculating the grades for each of the four categories — student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps and college or career readiness — will likely change before next fall. 

The Texas Legislature approved the letter grades in 2015.

You can download a copy of the preliminary grades report on the TEA’s website or explore the document below. Ratings start on Page 3 under Appendix D in the document.

2015-2016 Report Cards for Texas Schools by KERANews on Scribd

Video: An overview of the A-F system

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.