School districts across Texas pulled in lackluster preliminary grades under the state’s new letter-grade accountability system that debuts Friday. Various Central Texas districts, including Austin, Leander, Hays, Georgetown, Bastrop, Manor, Elgin, San Marcos, Hutto, Dripping Springs and Elgin received unacceptable grades of Ds and Fs in certain categories, according to a report sent to the Texas Legislature last week that was obtained by the American-Statesman.
Even some nationally ranked campuses, including Round Rock’s Westwood High School and Eanes’ Westlake High, didn’t muster straight As under the new system, and schools that received top marks from the state just a few months ago received unacceptable scores. The grades are meant to give districts and the public a glimpse of how the new system will work when it is finalized next year, and are not official or punitive. The accountability ratings doled out in August still stand.
“Although we support and value campus and district accountability, we also believe that communities cannot assess the complexity of educating students by a single letter grade based mostly on a standardized assessment,” said Round Rock Superintendent Steve Flores.
The new A-F letter grade rating system is based heavily on state standardized test performance. While the final grading system goes into effect in August 2018, lawmakers required that school districts and campuses receive preliminary ratings based on the 2015-16 school year to give a glimpse of what ratings will reveal. The scores are not official or punitive and the accountability ratings doled out in August still stand. Instead, the Texas Education Agency’s preliminary report to the Legislature shows what letter grades schools and districts would have received for the 2015-16 school year if the rating system had been in place.
While in the future schools and districts will receive a single letter grade, that’s not the case for the preliminary grades. The Texas Education Agency is instead releasing four letter grades, each in a different category:
How students perform on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.
How students improve on the STAAR year over year.
How well students are prepared for careers and college after high school. The state is scoring elementary school students on this category based on how many of their students are chronically absent. Middle schools will also be scored on their drop out rates.
How campuses and school districts close performance gaps between low-income and higher-income students.
The new rating system was passed by the Legislature in 2015 amid heavy pushback from school districts statewide.
State teachers’ groups and multiple Texas districts, including locals Austin, Dripping Springs and Manor, approved resolutions that called on the Texas Legislature to repeal the A-F letter grading system. Others, like the Round Rock district, included repealing the grading system in its top legislative priorities.
Austin school district Superintendent Paul Cruz said having an A through F system is confusing if it is not the same A through F system that people know and understand. Under this system, a school can have a 90 and still be failing, he said, and “that’s not the grading system we use in our schools.”
Blackshear Elementary, for example, is a national Blue Ribbon school, and has been recognized by the Texas Education Agency for the work it has done with a high concentration of students from low-income families. Yet it received an F under the postsecondary readiness category because of absenteeism, he said.
Statewide, campuses also scored tepid marks:
13 percent got As, 18 percent got Bs, 36 percent got Cs and 32 percent got Ds and Fs in student achievement.
12 percent got As, 21 percent got Bs, 34 percent got Cs and 33 percent got Ds and Fs in student progress.
10 percent got As, 25 percent got Bs and 23 percent got Cs and 42 percent got Ds and Fs in closing performance gaps.
11 percent got As, 24 percent got Bs and 35 percent got Cs and 31 percent got Ds and Fs in postsecondary readiness.
Courtney Boswell, executive director of the Austin-based education policy group Texas Aspires, said that the results transparently represent the actual performance of districts and campuses statewide.
“So much of the resistance to accountability and academic transparency comes from superintendents and supported by suburban-type parents. Everyone thinks that their school and teachers are great, and not necessarily the one over there. It gives us a great opportunity to see where there are gaps and areas for improvement. Perceptions aren’t always reality,” she said.
The new A-F rating system was passed by the Legislature in 2015. It requires that the Texas Education Agency assign letter grades on overall performance, as well as for each of five performance indicators (only four measured for now), to districts and their campuses. Letter grades A through C are considered acceptable, while D and F are not.