Texas public schools will be graded pass-fail this summer as the state eases in a new system to measure whether students are meeting academic standards.
That is, unless lawmakers decide to delay the new school accountability ratings, which have been on hold since 2011 as new standardized tests were rolled out. The Texas Senate has already passed a bill that would provide a ratings reprieve until 2014 because of the frenzy of proposed legislative changes to testing, graduation requirements and accountability.
The new accountability rating system, unveiled Tuesday by the Texas Education Agency, still relies heavily on standardized test scores but aims to provide a more nuanced assessment of how well schools and districts are doing their jobs.
“I have heard the criticism of the previous accountability system, with its overemphasis on a school’s lowest performing areas and its blind spot to what a district or charter might be doing well,” Education Commissioner Michael Williams said in a statement. “The new system makes use of multiple indicators to provide parents and taxpayers a more detailed overview of the successes, as well as areas of necessary improvement, for each school district, charter and campus.”
Educators found the previous system unfair because an entire school could be deemed unacceptable if a single demographic group, such as Hispanic or low-income students, did not meet the passing standard.
The agency set out to eliminate the “tripwires” by basing a school’s rating on four areas: overall student achievement, whether a school is closing the gaps between low-income students and their wealthier peers, how much progress students are making, and high school completion and readiness for college or a career after high school.
In the first phase, schools and districts will receive a basic “Met Standard” or “Improvement Required,” with some additional plaudits if a school shows a lot of improvement or does particularly well in English or math.
The TEA estimates that 7 to 12 percent of campuses would receive the lowest “Improvement Required” rating, compared with the 6 percent that were deemed “Academically Unacceptable” in 2011, the most recent ratings available.
The new ratings will be issued Aug. 8, absent any legislative changes.
Come 2014, schools will receive letter grades of A through F. That system is still being developed.
Educators lament that the new system still relies almost entirely on a school’s scores on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness and does not account for a school’s other strengths, such as a high-quality fine arts program or extensive career training options.
“This new system is still lacking a comprehensive approach” as it measures little more than STAAR results, said Casey McCreary, assistant executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators.
And the complex new system will be even harder to explain to parents, she added.
Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, said the new ratings are needed to push improvements in school performance, and he urged Gov. Rick Perry to veto any legislation that would further delay ratings.
“If we want to meet employers’ needs in the future, this new accountability system will lay the foundation for the changes that are needed,” Hammond said. “We must know how our schools are doing and if they are advancing the core mission of graduating students who are career- or college-ready.”