Draft A-F accountability rules do little to allay concerns

 The 2015 legislature narrowly passed a bill providing for simplistic A-F ratings for schools, but the A-F system will not be implemented until later this year for school districts and not until 2019 for individual campuses. That gives the 2019 legislature a chance to reconsider and undo the A-F mandate, as other states disillusioned with this scheme have done, before it applies at the campus level.
The A-F model is touted as a transparency tool, but in reality it does not give parents the information they need to understand what is going on at their child’s school and would reinforce the misuse of standardized tests as the be-all, end-all of educational performance. The A-F system has been used in other states as a trigger for issuance of private-school vouchers at taxpayer expense with minimal accountability. Another lesson from other states is that low grades under the A-F scheme tend to correlate closely with high concentrations of low-income students—serving more as a gauge of socioeconomic disadvantage than of school performance. The real issue is how to get needed resources and community supports into high-poverty schools, not to find a more effective way to stigmatize them and their communities.
At a hearing of the Texas House Public Education Committee still under way at this writing, Texas AFT presented extensive written testimony making these points and noting particular flaws in proposed rules for A-F implementation from the commissioner of education reflecting reflexive over-reliance on unreliable test-driven performance indicators. (The draft rules are due to be published for public comment next month.) Other educator, parent, and business-sector witnesses raised similar concerns at the committee hearing. One noted that the draft policies seem to have a “systematic bias making it more difficult for some schools than others” to earn high ratings for student achievement. Several objected to the commissioner’s proposal to give less weight to graduation rates relative to standardized test scores. Called directly into question was the value of the proposed system if it cannot credibly classify performance as acceptable or unacceptable or help educators identify instructional practices in need of change.