The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has fulfilled its obligatory requirement by supplying legislators with hypothetical letter grades on schools and school districts statewide using the new letter grade system recently approved by the 64th Texas Legislative Session. The present system of “Met Standard” of “Needs Improvement” ratings is being replaced by one that gives A through F letter grades along the lines of what students receive on assignments and report cards.

Known as House Bill 2804 this legislation requires the TEA to provide schools and districts with what is essentially a preliminary snapshot of how the system will work once it goes into effect in 2018.

Districts and their schools are rated in four domains as follows

  • D1: Student Achievement
  • D2: Student Progress
  • D3: Closing Performance Gaps
  • D4: Postsecondary Readiness

“What the TEA releases provides insight about the methodology of a futuristic system,” said Tyler ISD Superintendent Dr. Marty Crawford. “These marks do not reflect the incredible progress Tyler ISD campuses made over the course of the last school year in current law, such as the increased number of state recognized academic distinctions and the significant reduction of low-performing campuses.”

State Education Commissioner Mike Morath points out that guidelines for establishing the grades in their individual categories are not yet firmly set, and may change before the fall 2017 semester. He also advises parents and schools against using these preliminary grades as indicators of what overall grades may be the following year.

“TEA was clear in calculating this statutory requirement as developing and unfinished,” said Crawford. “We’re not letting the success of students and solid work of teachers under the current system go unnoticed, much less distracted by the experimental features of these new, unofficial targets. Right now, we’re focused on teaching this year’s students and continuing the gains we saw next year. Once the rules of this game are clear we will work to win in that setting just as we are in the current system.”

The Met Standard/Needs Improvement methodology are still in use for the 2016-2017 school year. These ratings are for informational purposes to comply with legislative requirements by representing work-in-progress models that are expected to change before the A-F rating system goes into effect in August 2018.

Longview Independent School District Director of Research, Planning and Accountability Latitia Wilson is confident that LISD is on track with the A-F Rating System. Nonetheless, she posited that it is not an accurate measurement for Longview ISD student population.  “We are ahead of the game due to the measures we already have in place. Now that we know the rules, we will continue to implement our strategic plan,” she said. “Our district does not have a problem with TEA measuring student performance or student progress; however, the A-F rating system does not give an accurate picture of everything that is going on in our district with our students.  The rating system provides a narrow focus primarily based on the STAAR tests.”

After looking at LISD preliminary grades, Wilson said, “The district will continue to provide targeted staff development for teachers in key content areas such as reading, math, science, writing, and social studies across the district. Although the average daily attendance rate for all schools was above 95%, we will place more focus on decreasing our chronic absenteeism rate (Domain IV) by utilizing our district truancy officer as well as other district initiatives to assist in this matter.”

Pine Tree Superintendent Dr. T.J. Farler stated her thoughts about the system thus: “Since the A-F system is still in the development phase, I cannot really provide a comment. If we truly develop a system that easily shows our parents and communities what districts and campuses are accomplishing, a new system could be beneficial. But, if the new A-F system is only going to use one set of testing data from one day during the school year, that is unfair to the students and teachers who work hard each day. PTISD provides our students with a robust education to be great digital citizens, people of character, and individuals who can compete in a global work environment. It appears the new A-F system is only going to be another testing system based on one day during the school year.

Pine Tree school had no As nor Fs on the new rating system. Per Farler, when indicator for the system is carefully examined, one will find that the “new system is very narrowly focused.” “Districts that have a lot of diversity and/or students who need additional support to be academically successful will not score well in the newly designed A-F system,” she said.  “PTISD will continue to provide an innovative, challenging education for all of our students. and we will continue to provide learning creative opportunities for our students. This type of learning cannot be measured by a scanton test or be reflected in the A-F system as it is currently set up.”

Still “PTISD will analyze the data provided by TEA in the A-F system, and use the information to make informed instructional decisions,” Farler said. “However, this is old data and we have already planned curriculum, provided professional development for teachers/staff, and worked to close the gaps for students who need help to improve based on the 2016 STAAR results that were released last June (2016). It seems a waste of time and effort to be using old data for a new system. It would have made more sense to phase in the new system, as TEA has done repeatedly in the past, rather than send out “test” grades with old data.”

Spring Hill ISD Superintendent Steven Snell could not be reached for comments.