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School accountability ratings draw criticism

School accountability ratings draw criticism

Area districts fare well overall, but administrators say TEA report doesn't capture the whole story

August 20th, 2018 by Jennifer Middleton in Texarkana Region

While Texarkana, Texas,' public school districts got high marks in the state accountability ratings released last week, some say the rating system does not accurately represent what happens in classrooms.

"We got a B in accountability. I'm not real sure what that tells us," said Paul Norton, Texarkana Independent School District superintendent. "It's kind of compared to a student going through school all year long and at the end of the year, you get one letter grade for the year. It doesn't tell you anything about how a school district is doing well and what areas they need to improve in. To me, that's what an accountability system should do."

This is the first year the Texas Education Agency has used the A-F letter-grade system, which was established through House Bill 22 and passed during the 85th Texas Legislature. It measures three domains for academic performance of districts and campuses: student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps. The A-F rating was applied to districts this year, and individual campuses will be rated beginning in August 2019.

Pleasant Grove ISD received an A, and Liberty-Eylau ISD got a C.

Norton said the rating looks simple but it goes much deeper than just a letter. He added that districts are basically flying blind on what the accountability system looks for each year.

"The (TEA) commissioner told us a couple of years ago we will have an accountability system you can explain to a parent in five minutes," he said. "You couldn't explain this one in two or three hours. It's hard to get growth measures when you don't test kids every year in the same subjects. Accountability should come down to 'Did that student accelerate a year's worth in a year?'"

Across the state, numbers show that wealthier student populations received higher accountability ratings than the economically disadvantaged. Norton said the data is not representative of a district's true performance.

"It makes me sick to think there are teachers across the state that are being chastised on A to F systems that doesn't take account on what they do every day," he said.

L-EISD Superintendent Ronnie Thompson agreed.

"The (TEA), at the request of the state legislature, have created several accountability systems over the years in an attempt to quantify into a single score all the great things happening in our schools," he said. "Once again, they missed the mark. Due to the legislature's vision for school ratings, their efforts have consistently placed a heavy emphasis on the results of standardized tests administered one time over the course of a year. Therefore, the systems, including the recent A-F system, have all produced the same result, the higher the population of low socioeconomic students, the lower your rating."

Thompson said TEA's latest attempt to simplify the realities of public education into a single grade is not going to define who they are at L-EISD. He said they can use the data to help align curriculum and propel the district forward but that it's just one piece of the puzzle and does not take into consideration all the educational experiences they provide to students.

"We prefer to evaluate ourselves using a much broader approach, considering not only the ever-changing assessment measures sent to us from the agency, but all experiences provided through our amazing staff, parents and students," he said.

PGISD Superintendent Dr. Jason Smith said he was proud of the work his staff does each day to ensure a high level of learning for all students.

"The excellence of achievements attained by our PG students never cease to amaze me," he said. "I am always very proud of the high accomplishments reached by each and every student at Pleasant Grove Independent School District. However, every informed educator in the state of Texas realizes that the A through F rating system is flawed. The vast majority of the rating system is based on a test given on one day. Texas educators have called for a holistic approach to assessing our students, but it continues to be ignored by our Texas lawmakers. As well, Texas educators have been calling into question the skills and standards that are being assessed."

Smith said that for more than 20 years, corporate America and the business community have asked Texas lawmakers to include 21st-century skills, which includes soft skills, in the evaluation.

"I know our local school districts have chosen to listen to local business owners and community members and have included in our curriculums skills that better prepare our students for the jobs that lay ahead for them today and in the future," he said. "Sadly, the A through F rating system in my opinion is nothing more than a tool to divide public schools in the state of Texas so that a voucher system can be pushed through congress."

The ratings can be found at txschools.org. Explanation of the A-F rating is at tea.texas.gov/A-F.

Ratings for area school districts are:

Atlanta, B

Bloomburg, D

DeKalb, B

Hooks, B

Liberty-Eylau, C

Linden-Kildare, C

Maud, B

McLeod, B

New Boston, B

Queen City, B

Pleasant Grove, A

Red Lick, A

Redwater, B

Simms, B

Texarkana, B

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