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Controversial Letter Grades Reflect Progress In Some North Texas School Districts

Lara Solt
KERA News special contributor
Fourth-graders in a writing camp at Mitchell Boulevard Elementary School in Fort Worth ISD in April. Mitchell Boulevard is one of the schools that came off the "improvement required" list this year.

The Texas Education Agency has released new A-F grades for school districts. Some school leaders call the new rating system misleading. They say the letter grades simplify a complex issue. 

Every year, the state grades school districts, schools and charters, but this is the first time it issued letter grades, replacing the previous pass/fail system.

Individual schools won’t receive a letter grade until next school year. For now, they're graded on the pass/fail ratings system. For example, struggling schools receive a rating of “improvement required,” while schools that meet the state's mininum standards receive a “met standard” rating.

KERA’s Stella Chávez and Bill Zeeble have been reporting on the new ratings. They joined Eric Aasen for this week's Friday Conversation to talk about how some North Texas districts fared, and how school leaders are reacting.

Interview Highlights

How the Dallas Independent School District earned a B

Bill Zeeble: Those who view the Dallas school district negatively might have wondered, "How did that happen?" And Superintendent Michael Hinojosa was initially confused, too. But as he pointed out, the overall grade is based on a few categories. The Texas Education Agency explains the categories carry different weights. So, for example there's the "Student Achievement" and the "School Progress" categories. The state only counts the better score of those two, and that score makes up 70 percent of the grade. Then there's the "Closing the Gap" category, and that's another 30 percent. Dallas also surprised people because urban districts typically don't fare too well in these statewide accountability ratings.

"Dallas also surprised people because urban districts typically don't fare too well in these statewide accountability ratings."

On the state of the Fort Worth Independent School District

Stella Chávez: Fort Worth ISD got a C. The number of campuses that are rated "improvement required" dropped to 11. That's down from 24 schools rated IR four years ago. Two chronically failing schools, John T. White Elementary and Maude Logan Elementary, both of those schools are now off the IR list. If both of those schools had not gotten off the IR list, the district faced a possible state takeover.

How some of the low-performing schools that have turned around

Stella Chávez: The schools I followed in the spring did much better. All of them came off the "improvement required" list. That's Wimbish Elementary in Arlington ISD, and Mitchell Boulevard and John T. White Elementaries in Fort Worth ISD. Both of those [Fort Worth] schools are now leadership academies. The district poured a lot of extra resources into those schools, they're paying teachers more, and they've also extended the school day. But they all still have some work to do.

Learn more

Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.