On Thursday, August 15, 2019, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) issued a press release announcing the 2019 “A-F” accountability ratings for Texas public school districts and campuses. Last year, A-F ratings were available for school districts only. Yesterday marks the first time that A-F accountability grades have been shared for individual campuses, too. The foundation for the A-F accountability system was created in 2013 under House Bill (HB) 5. In 2015 and 2017, the system was modified through HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) and HB 22 by Representative Dan Huberty (R-Houston), respectively.
The A-F system was highly controversial among the education community in large part because it places a label of “failure” on schools, students, and educators based on a narrow view of school success. Additionally, many factors that strongly influence the outcomes that are measured by the A-F testing and accountability system are outside the scope of what educators can control. These include generational poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, family status, and adverse childhood experiences. For the reasons, ATPE opposed the inclusion of A-F ratings in the public school accountability system throughout the multiple legislative sessions in which it was developed.
Keeping in mind the limitations of the A-F accountability system for substantiating broad conclusions about the performance or effectiveness of schools, educators, and students, the ratings do lend themselves to some observations that can be useful for stakeholders to review. For example, a preliminary analysis of school district ratings shows that charter districts tend to have more C’s, D’s, and F’s than traditional districts. Eighty-six percent of traditional districts had either an A or B rating, compared to only 56 percent of charter districts. In fact, the percentage of charters rated D and rated F was six times and four times the percentage of traditional districts, respectively. It does appear that districts have overall improved since last year in the number rated A and B.
At the campus level, charter ratings are also more heavily weighted towards D and F. However, the overall percentage of schools that are rated A or B has increased since last year. Additionally, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath stated that he is, “particularly proud of the 296 high-poverty schools that achieved an A rating this year.” The commissioner, several lawmakers, and members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) held press events around the state yesterday related to the announcement of the ratings.
ATPE representatives also participated in a number of interviews with the media to discuss the A-F accountability grades. In one news story yesterday about the A-F ratings of schools around central Texas, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins discussed the myriad additional factors beyond accountability grades that will need to be considered when measuring the future impact of this year’s major school finance and reform bill, House Bill 3.
Of course, much more information is needed to decipher the meaning and validity of these new A-F ratings. In the past, ATPE has urged caution in interpreting A-F ratings, especially due to their reliance on data from student test scores. The TXschools.gov website promoted by TEA is meant to help parents understand ratings and make comparisons. Stakeholders can find further resources from TEA here, including video presentations on each of the three domains used in the rating system. ATPE will continue monitoring the system and fighting to ensure that it is fair and meaningful to educators, school leaders, students, and parents.