School ratings under new Texas system to be released next week

Texas school districts next week will learn what letter grade they have received under a new statewide rating system, unpopular among public school officials.

On Aug. 15, the Texas Education Agency will release whether school districts earned an A, B, C, D or F and whether campuses earned a rating of ‘met standard’ or ‘improvement required,’ based on performance in the 2017-18 school year. Campuses will not receive a letter grade until 2019 after state lawmakers, facing pressure from superintendents and school boards last year, postponed implementation. Even so, campuses will still receive a numeric grade, allowing the public to deduce which letter grade the campus would have received.

Agency officials will release a report in December that will show what letter grades campuses would have received if they were graded under the A-F system, but the results are for informational purposes.

“It’s a significant improvement over the prior system,” Education Commissioner Mike Morath told reporters on Tuesday. “The idea that you can provide clear summative information to parents is a huge win for parents. The idea that the design of the system was meant to highlight both high levels of student achievement and high levels of educator impact makes this essentially the fairest system in the history of the state of Texas.”

The public can access the ratings at on Aug. 15.

Since lawmakers approved creating an A-F system in 2015, public school officials have complained that the system heavily relies on student performance on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness and not on more holistic measures. They also fear assigning letter grades would stigmatize the public school system rather than improve it.

“We believe the rating system still relies too much on standardized testing, and that low-income kids still get a disproportionate amount of low grades on STAAR tests. When campuses start being graded next year, we believe that most of the Ds and Fs will be in low-income neighborhoods. Those schools need more resources from the state, not higher stakes from their tests,” said Clay Robison with the Texas State Teachers Association.

Earning a D or F will trigger certain sanctions from the state. Campuses receiving an ‘improvement required’ rating will be sanctioned by the state.

Morath said Tuesday the A-F system has a measure that compares districts and schools with similar rates of low income students to each other to avoid unduly penalizing high-poverty campuses.

Under the A-F system, districts and later, campuses will be measured in three categories — student achievement, school progress and closing the gap:

• The ‘student achievement’ category measures how well students performed on the STAAR and how well high school students also performed on college and career readiness measures and their graduation rates.

• The ‘school progress’ category is broken down into two subcategories that measure how many students improved on the STAAR compared with the previous year as well as how well campuses and districts performed compared to other campuses and districts with similar percentages of low-income students. Only the subcategory with the higher score will count toward the overall school progress score.

• The ‘closing the gap’ category measures how well students performed based on their race, income level, disability and other factors that might affect learning.

Only the higher grade between the ‘school progress’ and ‘student achievement’ categories will be counted and that score will count for 70 percent of the overall campus or district grade. The ‘closing the gap’ score will count for 30 percent of the overall grade.

If a district or school earns three Fs in the ‘student achievement,’ ‘closing the gap’ and the two subcategories under ‘school progress,’ then the overall grade must be an F. Morath said this rule will give a more accurate assessment of the district or campus’ overall performance for the academic year.

Some superintendents are concerned the rule contradicts wording in state law which allows only the higher score in the ‘student progress’ or ‘student achievement’ categories to count.

“It forces school districts and campuses to earn an F,” said Casey McCreary with the Texas Association of School Administrators, which has long been wary of implementing the A-F system.

Morath said there won’t be major changes to the A-F system for the next five years so that the public can get an accurate picture of how school and district ratings change over time. Under the law, however, districts will be able to develop their own rating systems of campuses to be implemented in a future date. The Austin school district is piloting a local rating system.

Lawmakers devised the A-F rating system to allow the public to better understand how schools are performing and better hold schools and districts accountable, in hopes of improving schools.

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