House panel approves scaling back A-F grading system for schools


School districts have said that the A-F system is vague and stigmatizes public schools.

The Senate and House education chairs have filed bills to reform the A-F system.

The House will next consider House Bill 22.

The House Public Education Committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would scale back the way that the state plans to grade public school performance each year.

The panel unanimously approved House Bill 22 filed by committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, which would delay the implementation of the A-F accountability system and cut down the number of categories under which schools are graded.

“We don’t want districts being punished but we want them to have the opportunity to … achieve a better grade,” Huberty said during the committee hearing.

Approved in 2015, the system has garnered backlash from school district officials, who have said the system’s letter grades are vague, put too much emphasis on standardized test scores and are meant to stigmatize public schools.

The system is slated to go into effect in August 2018, but as required by the law, the Texas Education Agency released scores in January, based on test scores and other data measured in the 2015-16 school year. They were supposed to give school officials a taste of what’s to come but they prompted even more criticism.

READ: Texas A-F grades make low-income schools look worse, analysis shows

Under the current accountability system, the state simply states whether school districts and campuses meet requirements or not.

HB 22, which next goes to the House floor, would delay the implementation of the A-F system by a year and reduce the number of categories for which schools and districts would be graded, including how well they prepare students for college and careers, and how well they reduce the performance gap between low- and high-income students, two areas in which districts and campuses demonstrated lackluster results when preliminary scores were released earlier this year.

The bill also would eliminate assigning a single overall letter grade to each school district and campus. Instead, the bill would only give letter grades in each of the three categories.

State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood and the Senate education committee chairman, has also proposed Senate Bill 2051, similar to the House bill. With support from both chambers, Huberty said he believes the bill will pass this session.

Over the last two weeks, Huberty has added even more provisions to his bill to reduce any unfair penalties to school districts, including allowing the education commissioner to improve a grade under special circumstances and ensuring that grades factor in the demographics of the district and how that might impact student performance.

“I think this is a good piece of policy that starts us in the right direction to cleaning up accountability as best as we can,” said H.D. Chambers, the superintendent of the Alief school district in Houston. Chambers helped Huberty craft the bill.

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