When it comes to the state’s updated accountability system that grades school districts on an A-F scale, North East Independent School District officials give the process a failing mark.
Under the rollout of the new rankings, which replace the Texas Education Agency’s previous pass/fail system, NEISD received a B.
Critics say the rating is overly simplistic, and makes it easier for Texas leaders to blame teachers and students for educational shortcomings; proponents counter the system creates more transparency and a clear indication of pupil performance.
NEISD Superintendent Brian Gottardy has been one of the more outspoken opponents of the rankings, which assign single letter grades to Texas school districts based on learner performance in several categories.
He feels it marginalizes year-round work.
“Whether we would have gotten an A rating or a B rating, we don’t give a lot of credence to the entire accountability system,” Gottardy said.
In addition to NEISD, other traditional area school districts obtaining B’s during the August release included Alamo Heights, Comal, Northside and Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City, according to TXSchools.org.
The ratings award a report-card grade to Texas school districts based on three criteria: student achievement, pupil progress and closing the gaps.
The measurement of student achievement consists of student performance on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, postsecondary readiness and graduation rates. The progress category, considered the better of the two scores, is year-by-year improvement on the STAAR test and overall learners’ marks relative to similar districts.
The closing-the-gaps evaluation gauges results of certain groups, such as racial/ethnic clusters, economically disadvantaged, and special-education students, in comparison to state objectives.
Gottardy believes the overall process isn’t a “fair assessment of a school to get one letter grade for work that’s being done all year long.”
“I think the accountability system is incredibly complex,” he said, “and it is not a system like (TEA Commissioner Mike Morath) has gone around the state talking about.”
Morath has been a vocal defender of the new “report card” since the Legislature approved the measure in 2015. Yet, detractors claim that letter grades unfairly punish districts and campuses serving low-income students, and the ratings rely too heavily on standardized exams.
“The design of the new A-F system is really more fair than any other system that has happened in Texas in terms of its appraisal of campus performance,” Morath told reporters a week before the accountability ratings were released. “It is producing ratings that are not strongly correlated with poverty.”
Many teachers, however, take issue with such an assessment.
“We remain strongly opposed to the new A-F grading system,” said Noel Candelaria, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, in a prepared release. “It is based largely on STAAR scores, a misleading, incomplete way to gauge student success, and it was designed by the governor and the legislative majority to pass the blame for their own failures to children and educators.”
He added state lawmakers should focus more on school financing.
Then again, Morath’s positive view isn’t without company.
Texas Public Policy Foundation Senior Education Policy Adviser Kara Belew said the new ratings are an “amazing step forward for Texas.” She touted the system for being clearer and easier for parents to grasp.
“Prior to this, we had very little information about how many children in a particular school district or campus were reading and doing math at grade level,” Belew said. “We just knew that it was a pass-fail system. Now, with the A-F rating system, we are able to take a hard look at differentiating performance amongst the different districts and you get a feel for how a school is doing.”
She added, “It allows you to understand if things are getting better or worse over time. (The system) focuses on continuous improvement, and there’s just a ton of information online, so if you’re not clear why your district got a D or an F, you can go online and say, ‘Well, according to the STAAR test, the vast majority of students are not reading at grade level, and that is one of the reasons we received this lower grade, and we need to focus on it.’”
Belew rejected the notion it unjustly penalizes districts and campuses containing many economically disadvantaged pupils.
“What’s harmful to students is graduating from high school and not being able to be successful in a career, college or the military,” she said. “We have to have a system where we identify school districts that are struggling to teach our children.”
This year’s ranks are just a test run while the state fine-tunes the process for 2019, officials said.
Visit https://www.texasassessments.com to learn more about district performances.
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