Texas Schools Rebuff ‘A-F’ Ratings

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

An increasing number of Texas school boards are pushing back against the State’s revamped public school accountability system by passing resolutions that call for lawmakers to repeal a new A-F ratings scale.

Monday evening, the Austin Independent School District school board approved such a resolution. Last week, boards in DeSoto, Mesquite, and Forney school districts passed similar resolutions. Previously, so did Dripping Springs ISD and Waskom ISD school boards.

In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed HB 2804, which will change how the state measures public school accountability, awarding grades from A to F in the 2017-18 academic year. This system intends to reduce the influence standardized testing plays, although it bases about 55 percent of a school’s accountability on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) and 45 percent across five domains including factors like graduation and dropout rates, enrollment in AP/IB courses, college or career prep courses and testing, plus “chosen locally determined” community and student engagement, Breitbart Texas reported.

The current system rates campuses as “met standard” or “needs improvement.” Those tagged “Improvement Required” in two out of a three year period land on the unenviable Public Education Grant (PEG) list of failing campuses.

Parents, education professionals, and lawmakers will get a glimpse of how schools stack up when the Texas Education Agency (TEA) previews the new accountability system in January. The sneak peek will only grade student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps, and college or career readiness. Supporters of grading schools say HB 2804 will provide parents more insight and information into how well campuses actually perform.

This wave of school board resolutions came in response to a call-to-action letter sent to school districts from the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA), a group BallotPedia has described as “a government sector lobbying association” funded by taxpayer dollars. TASA opposes A-F ratings. KXAN reported a TASA representative said the last time they called for resolutions against high-stakes accountability tests, more than 900 school districts came on board. They hope for a similar turn-out this time.

TASA crafted a resolution template for school board members to use. It calls for replacing HB 2804 with “tenets set out in Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas,” their 2008 blueprint for 21st Century learning in Texas. They want to rate schools on “community-based” accountability, which they say would reflect a four part evaluation with performance reviews by visiting teams, reports to parents and communities, classroom-centered evidence of progress, and some standardized testing.

Also, they argue too much of HB 2804 metrics still come from the STAAR test and say the new rating system provides no direction as to how or what schools must do to improve. TASA asserts A-F grading “creates a false impression about an entire neighborhood of children and shames students,” adding the “reduction of a school to a single grade whitewashes the variance in a school, unfairly reducing every student to the school’s assigned grade.”

Online, TASA houses an arsenal of materials including A-F talking points, a list of school districts around the state that support the resolution, and a press release for school boards to send “to local media to alert them of the board’s action, explain the concerns with Texas’ A-F system, and let the public know there is a better alternative,” which TASA believes is their “vision.”

While most parents and teachers agree that standardized testing overshadows public education, the question is which version of accountability best serves students.

School board members are publicly elected officials who join the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), a lobbyist organization harshly criticized by state Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) for their “adults-first, children-second mindset,” indoctrination, and groupthink culture in a Dallas Morning News report. A retired FBI agent turned Texas public school forensic accounting investigator shared similar sentiments about TASB with the Dallas newspaper.

TASB represents the largest group of publicly-elected officials in the state and includes all 1,030 Texas school districts, 20 regional education service centers, 50 community colleges, 16 tax appraisal districts, and 137 shared service arrangements. They note one of their primary purposes is to represent school boards when lawmakers make decisions affecting Texas school districts. Breitbart Texas reported state legislators proposed a bill to boot a slew of education lobbyists out of classrooms in 2015.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.


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