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TEA changes have potential to sink Texas school ratings

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Things are about to look a lot gloomier in HISD and it has nothing to do with the state takeover. It has to do with upcoming changes to the state’s A-F rating system for schools and the very likely outcome that campuses across the state could suddenly appear to be doing worse, some even failing.

For months, districts have been raising concerns about the change to the state’s career, college and military readiness indicators, part of one of three indices that go into a high school’s final A-F grade. The state regularly does a “refresh” of the ratings system.

This month, more than 200 districts, including Houston ISD, Fort Bend ISD and Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, signed a letter asking the state to pause the changes to let the legislature study and make its own recommendations about the state’s accountability system.

“In the midst of a teacher shortage, the last thing school districts need is another false narrative that drives a wedge between schools and the families they serve,” the letter argued.

If school districts cried “Uncle,” this is what it would look like.

On the heels of a massively disruptive global pandemic and amid a redesign of the all-important STAAR exam, schools haven’t had a moment to exhale here in Texas.

“Our students and schools should have at least a year to adapt to these significant changes being proposed and not be penalized for so many moving pieces that will culminate all at once and drastically impact school ratings,” argued advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas in a statement on the changes.

That doesn’t mean the changes aren’t necessary. We believe in higher standards and higher expectations, knowing this state and this nation are woefully lacking in both when compared with our international peers.

“The fact of the matter is that the idea of strengthening accountability for our schools especially as it relates to college readiness and career readiness is probably a really good thing,” said Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk and a member of the 2022-2023 Texas Accountability Advisory Group for the state’s education agency.

The biggest change will likely be the most painful for districts: raising the cut-off for an A score in the college, career and military readiness category from 60 to 88.

The change would apply to students who have already graduated and that districts no longer influence.

It’s a big jump but Sanborn supports ripping the Band-Aid off all at once because Texas students don’t fare well after high school compared with other states.

A recent analysis tracked how many eighth graders across Texas received some sort of post-secondary degree within six years of their expected high school graduation: just 21%.

Six years later, the number had risen to 29%.

The cards are stacked against Texas where roughly 60% of all public school students are economically disadvantaged. Unsurprisingly, these students were less likely to receive a post-secondary degree than their advantaged peers in the study.

Low post-secondary degree attainment rates are clearly not all about what’s happening in high schools — far from it, but there are ways K-12 can better prepare students for next steps.

“We need to do a better job, and make sure we’re putting them on a better path,” said Judith Cruz, a Houston ISD school board member and the Texas assistant director for the Education Trust, an advocacy organization.

Should we do better? Absolutely. But districts need to feel supported not penalized. That’s why Cruz wants to make sure more districts are aware of the bonus state funding that can come along with boosting CCMR measures for qualifying students that exceed the threshold performance, thanks to a 2019 law: $5,000 per economically disadvantaged student, $3,000 for economically advantaged students and $2,000 for students receiving special education services.

That funding could help districts hire more counselors and teachers who help set students up for success after graduation.

We want our students to succeed after they leave our public schools and we believe there are good reasons behind the new standards.

But we’re not the only ones skeptical of anything coming from a state whose leaders have relentlessly tried to undermine public education, failed to enforce laws, and botched well-intended efforts toward accountability.

One tougher standard or metric, in and of itself, isn’t earth-shattering.

But districts aren’t just upset about potentially lower scores, they’re upset about the stakes of lower scores in a climate in which lawmakers are actively pushing voucher schemes that would drain public school funding and potentially cost teachers jobs and in which even one chronically under-performing school can trigger a state takeover of the entire district.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666