New Texas A-F Accountability Ratings are a Failure!

This week districts across the state of Texas received the preliminary “What If” A-F rankings based on the proposed new accountability system for public schoolfailures in Texas.  The preliminary rataings landed with a resounding “thud” and what most educators knew would be a haphazard and arbitrary rating process was proven to be just that.

I’ve spoken with numerous campus leaders and fellow district leaders this week and all of us are left wondering how to make sense of a system that so easily and widespread assigns Cs, Ds, and Fs to the very campuses and districts that “Met Expectations” across the board on STAAR or even received “Distinction Designations”.  Somehow TEA has managed to use the SAME DATA to denote a campus and/or district as meeting expectations, and even recognizing great work through distinctions, while also giving those same campuses and districts grades of C, D, or F using this new accountability system.  Talk about a failure to communicate effectively!

The sad reality that was revealed this week with the release of the preliminary “What If” ratings is the state of Texas has a long way to go in convincing educators, parents, and the community at large this new rating system is anything other than a disappointing effort at taking the easy way out on accountability by assigning arbitrary grades to campuses and districts.  The new rating system is built upon high stakes tests, STAAR, and heavily relies on student test performance to rate and rank schools/districts.  The system is not fair, clear, nor is it transparent.

It’s time that educators, parents, and those who care about the quality of education in our state stand up to this ridiculous and unfair A-F Rating system.  It’s time we reach out to our elected officials and articulate why this rating system is absurd, arbitrary, and ineffective in accomplishing the purposes for which it was developed.

The state called this recent release of ratings a “What If” run of data.  I say we should ask lawmakers and those in TEA our own “What If” questions:

“What If” if we recognize the unfair nature of this A-F rating system as it pertains to stueducated-preschool-kidsdents from low socioeconomic and limited English settings?  Research has shown that these students, and their families, face challenges to access of basic needs and essentials that make it difficult for parents in these settings to prioritize education.  We also know these students require additional support during their educational careers to close gaps in language, literacy, academic vocabulary, and background knowledge.  To rank schools and districts who have a high percentage of low socioeconomic families and English language learners the same way districts with low percentages are ranked is patently unfair and ignores educational research.

“What If” we recognize the unfair nature of this A-F rating system as it pertains to teacherstressteachers?  This new system will denigrate and marginalize teachers who work tirelessly and with great effort to teach, encourage, develop, and care for the multiple needs of each of their students.  We’ll see teachers leave the schools that need the best teachers, often times those that will receive lower grades in this new A-F rating system, in order to move to schools with higher ratings so they can feel more valued and appreciated.

“What If” we recognize how unfair this A-F rating system is for communities across the state?  Affluent communities that will have more schools and districts with A’s and B’s in the new rating system will continue to draw businesses and enterprise growth while struggling communities and those with less economic enterprise will be granted the scarlet letters of D and F and the cycle of struggle will be perpetuated by the state accountability system.

“What If” we recognize this A-F rating system is being built upon a foundation that is an unfair and poorly implemented state test, the STAAR?  The STAAR test has been miss-the-targetimplemented with routine issues and failures since its inception in 2012.  We know the test has biases in it and even the state has run into repetitive issues in scoring the tests, losing test documents all together, and originally didn’t even release questions the first few years so teachers could even see what their students were being assessed on.

Finally, a sad bit of irony rests in the fact that our lawmakers have chosen to rely on this failed A-F rating system all the while being guilty themselves of failing to adequately fund education.  Most national education finance reports give the state of Texas a failing grade when it comes to how they fund education.  For nearly two decades state lawmakers have systematically shifted the cost and burden of educating our children to the local school districts.  This has allowed lawmakers to claim they fight for low property taxes at the state level while forcing local districts to be the “bad guy” in raising local property taxes to fund the educational needs of the district.  “What If” part of the accountability process required local districts to rate the state of Texas and lawmakers on how they provide for a free and public education for our students?

Hope for Texas State Accountability Reform

Very hopeful that the “Next Generation” commission will provide our state leaders with some very practical and necessary changes to the state accountability system and the STAAR test.  They are currently meeting and will provide a comprehensive list of reform items in the Fall of 2016.

The test covers too many standards as it is right now and teachers do not have the time nor the resources to effectively teach critical, foundational skills to the depth and complexity necessary for students to have mastery of those essential skills and knowledge.

The test is also too punitive and we should not be determining if a student in 5th grade or 8th grade (even the EOCs in high school) should move on to the next grade based on the results of one test (even with re-tests) and basically diminishing that student’s academic work and learning for the year and perhaps even dismissing a student’s need for additional time and support to meet mastery. All students do not learn at the same rate and to shoehorn every one of them into the timeframe of learning that equates with a standardized testing schedule is absurd.

The commission has a very balanced make up of educators, leaders, and parents. It will be up to the TEA commissioner and our legislators to trust this committee and to do what is right by students.