District A-F ratings released, but why they shouldn’t mean squat

The Texas Education Agency today released its controversial A-F accountability ratings for school districts on a system based primarily on STAAR test results, and you can view the letter grades and sort and search by a variety of criteria at the new TEA website, www.txschools.org.

Campus ratings also were released on the site, although they remain under the former rating terms of “Met Standard” or “Improvement Required.” Campuses are slated to receive letter grades next summer–if changes are not made to this flawed system in the spring legislative session–although a rollout of the letter grades the campuses would have received this summer will be released in December.

A lot of drama was packed into the letter-grade release, but in the end only about a dozen districts received an “F,” with another 40-something receiving a similarly failing “D.” (Even though we discount the methodology for these ratings, they still have potential punitive consequences on the campus level and for districts overall, and we’ll report on that in upcoming hotlines.)

Kudos to TEA for creating a website that is fairly easy to search by district and campus and take a dive into STAAR results for each, with a bit of explanation of what those results mean. But in the end, the results don’t mean squat (a euphemism for a more vulgar term that we believe fits here) in terms of truly assessing the quality and effort put into learning at districts and campuses, and we’ll let our statement from Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro explain why:

The new A-F accountability system moves Texas in the wrong direction by reinforcing the test-driven distortion of the classroom experiences of millions of Texas students. Put simply, a comprehensive picture of all students’ abilities and performance at a school or district is not reducible to a one-letter grade label.

An extremely complex system of boiling down test scores into letter grades doesn’t reflect the reality of what’s going on in our schools. That single letter grade provides parents no information about how their kids are progressing in school and will only confuse parents more.

The simple answer for parents is that there is no reason for confidence that ratings based primarily on a snapshot of test scores will offer a trustworthy picture of school performance.

The commissioner calls this the fairest system of accountability ever.  Educators and parents disagree and reject the misuse of standardized test scores from tests–that were not designed for this purpose—as the primary means of assessing how well schools are educating our kids. There is nothing fair to students or parents about using a one-time multiple-choice test to labeling schools and districts.  This system will stigmatize and demoralize our most impoverished schools and embolden school privatizers to take community schools away from the communities they serve.

In 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), ending punitive federal mandates for schools based solely on standardized test scores. States now have the discretion to develop accountability systems designed to support deep teaching and learning and jettison the punitive and ineffective sanctions and required improvement strategies of the past that did not work. By implementing the A-F ranking system, Texas is moving backward regarding improvements to its accountability system.

The Texas Legislature has delayed implementation of this faulty system twice, and many legislators have expressed misgivings about increasing emphasis on a single measure of student learning.  More than half of all the 1,100 school districts in Texas have passed resolutions opposing A-F.  The Legislature should repeal the A-F system in the coming year before this misguided system has a chance to cause more damage to students and schools.