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School rating system gets an F from area officials

Area school administrators take issue with how Texas report measures districts by Jennifer Middleton | January 7, 2017 at 5:42 a.m. | Updated January 7, 2017 at 6:58 a.m.
Nash Elementary students work on classwork together Friday. Local Texas school officials disagree with the methodology of the new A-F school accountability system.

Administrators from area schools have voiced their disagreement with the method the Texas Education Agency used to measure school accountability under the new A-F system in a report released Friday.

The A-F Work-In-Progress ratings report, which uses data from the 2015-16 school year, was intended for use by the Senate and House committees on education and not for the public domain. But once it was given to lawmakers on Jan. 1, it quickly became public.

Superintendents from Texarkana, Liberty-Eylau and Pleasant Grove independent school districts spoke at a press conference Friday to address the report, stating it misrepresents what's happening in their classrooms and hallways each day.

TISD Superintendent Paul Norton said the complexity of the A-F system as it stands makes it difficult for people to understand, making it unclear what the numbers actually represent.

"They'll just hear the A's, B's and C's," Norton said. "The state has come up with this box for what a child should be, and we've got to change that box. A lot of school districts go to community-based assessment systems, where (they're) releasing report cards based on what the community tells (them) is important, not what Austin tells (them) is important."

The accountability system was enacted with HB 2804, passed during Texas' 84th legislative session. It established that the system should be put in place, but left parameters of the modeling up to TEA.

In a press release, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath stated the ratings in the report are for informational purposes and are likely to change before the A-F ratings become effective in August 2018.

"It is important to note that the Met Standard/Improvement Required ratings issued in August 2016 and updated in November 2016 are the official academic accountability ratings for the 2016-16 school year. A similar process will be used for the 2016-17 school year," Morath stated in the press release. It further states that no inferences about official district or campus performance from the 2015-16 school year should be drawn from the ratings.

Norton said the report was released for reasons other than measuring school accountability.

"There's a political reason it's being released publicly," he said. "It's so that they can continue to push their voucher agenda as this legislative session opens next week."

The 85th legislative session begins Tuesday, and school vouchers are something many lawmakers are pushing to implement in Texas.

If approved, vouchers would allow public funds to be used for students to attend private or charter schools, or to be home-schooled.

State Rep. Gary VanDeaver said vouchers are something he won't vote for.

"I'm opposed to anything that takes funding away from our public schools, and especially something that does not have accountability," he said. Charter schools in Texas aren't held to the same standards as public schools in areas such as state assessments. As for Norton's theory that the report was released to further the voucher agenda, VanDeaver said it's very likely to be so.

"It's pretty hard not to connect the dots between the A-F data and those who would like to see vouchers in the state of Texas," he said.

A former teacher and superintendent at New Boston, Texas, Independent School District, VanDeaver said he "regretfully" voted for the A-F system, believing it would give a clearer picture.

"We were under the impression that the new system would give schools more input and control over their performance. Eventually, hopefully, it will," he said. "What it's doing right now is not what I intended for it. Districts need more local control."

The A-F system does give the opportunity for an element of local control, but those figures weren't included in the Work-In-Progress Report. That element would also only account for 10 percent of the overall score.

Administrators also focused on one element of the flawed methodology-subgroups and chronic absenteeism. If a student falls into a subgroup and is chronically absent, that student is counted more than once in the formula, thereby potentially bringing down the grade of not only that campus, but the entire district.

"The No. 1 thing we ask is, 'Are students doing well in school?'" PGISD Superintendent Jason Smith said. "Every day, we're looking at what they're learning and not learning and making adjustments. You can't (grade) a campus based on a student who's absent 15 times, who's counted three times in the formula and it ends up impacting the grade of that entire campus, which impacts the entire school district when we know we're making progress on a daily basis-and yet everything we're graded on is based on what happens on one test day. It's very unfair. It's not an accurate account of the learning that's going on our classrooms."

The administrators said that the system as it stands now will have a direct effect on teachers.

"You kill teacher morale when you do things like this, because they have worked extremely hard every day," Norton said. "In Texarkana, USA, we have teachers who work hard every day to make sure that our kids get what they need, but yet we're going to stigmatize people based on what somebody in Austin has to say."

VanDeaver said the committees will likely recommend changes on how the data is analyzed.

"I don't know at this point what legislation will be filed," he said.

Administrators advised that people express their concerns about the system to local lawmakers.

VanDeaver can be reached at 512-463-0962 or P.O. Box 2910, Austin, TX 78768-2910. He can also be reached locally at 903-628-0361, 1101 Texas Highway 98, New Boston, TX 75570 or online at

The full report is available at


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