Public school districts and campuses across Texas received less than stellar grades under the state’s new accountability ratings and the Sherman and Denison independent school districts found themselves members of the same club, but they both disagree with their assessment and the system.
Sherman and Denison were both given largely Cs and Ds under the the states’s new grading system, which debuted Friday and assigns individual schools and districts an A-F grade in four categories related to their preparatory abilities and the academic performance of students during the 2015-2016 school year. The grades released are heavily assessed from the results of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test, Texas’s standardized academic exam.
The Denison Independent School District was awarded a C in student achievement, a C in student progress, a B in closing performance gaps and a C in post-secondary readiness. Sherman ISD fared no better under the new system, pulling in a C in the area of student achievement, a D in student progress, a B in closing performance gaps, and another D in post-secondary readiness.
“If I thought it was a fair system I would be disappointed in Cs and a D,” Denison Independent School District Superintendent Henry Scott said. “But this isn’t a fair system. I don’t think it fairly judges what our students and teachers do.”
Scott said their are numerous flaws with the accountability ratings, but emphasized the system’s reliance on standardized testing in generating the grades.
“What they’re doing here is trying to put a letter grade on a school and a school district in each of those domains, that’s based upon a test that’s given one time a year,” Scott said. “It does not take into account a full volume of work that the school district or school is doing over a full year. It only takes that one snapshot and applies a grade to it.”
Sherman Independent School District Superintendent David Hicks said he felt the new grade system was “misguided” and that it “unfairly stigmatizes” both individual schools and the district at large. Nonetheless Hicks said the grades wouldn’t affect the district’s goal.
“We’re going to teach our kids,” Hicks said. “What we’re not going to do is allow an A-F rating to define who Sherman ISD is. We’re much better than what this system is indicating.”
The four-category, A-F grade system is intended to give districts an idea of how the new accountability system will be structured when it is enacted next year. Grades A, B and C are considered acceptable. Grades D and F are listed as unacceptable. Districts and schools also cannot be penalized for these most recent ratings as they are considered unofficial. The ratings also do not replace the 2016 ratings, which were based on the “met standard” criteria — which all Grayson County public school districts achieved. The 2018 rating system will give schools and districts a single letter grade.
The Austin American Statesman newspaper reports that campuses statewide tended to receive low marks in Friday’s accountability rollout. In the category of student achievement, 13 percent got As, 18 percent got Bs, 36 percent got Cs and 32 percent got Ds and Fs. In the category of student progress, 12 percent earned As, 21 percent got Bs, 34 percent got Cs and 33 percent got Ds and Fs. In the category of performance gap closure, 10 percent got As, 25 percent got Bs and 23 percent got Cs and 42 percent got Ds and Fs. In the category of post-secondary readiness, 11 percent got As, 24 percent got Bs and 35 percent got Cs and 31 percent got Ds and Fs.
The Texas State Legislature passed the new rating system in 2015 and ever since numerous school districts have voiced their disapproval. Both the Denison and Sherman independent school districts have adopted the Region 10 Legislative Priorities resolution, which identifies the A-F rating as a threat to public schools. Fifty-five of the region’s 80 school districts have adopted the resolution or are currently considering whether to adopt it.
“While Region 10 districts support a strong accountability system, we see no evidence that the A-F grading system approved during the last session to grade schools and districts will actually improve performance or help students,” a passage from the Legislative Priorities website reads. “Letter grades for schools only create a culture of fear where individual campuses and districts are pitted against one another.”
The resolution also voices opposition to decreased state education spending per student and voucher programs, which offer financial incentives to families who want to enroll their children in private and charter schools, taking money away from public school system.
The Texas Association of School Administrators has also called on state lawmakers to do away with the A-F grading scale and instead adopt a community-centric accountability system. Information published on the association’s website suggested that system would be based on “student and classroom-centered evidence of learning,” “strategic use of standardized testing,” “performance reviews and validation of learning by highly trained, visiting teams” and “rigorous descriptive reporting to parents and communities.”
Both Scott and Hicks were in agreement on the need for district accountability. And both said that accountability is currently in the hands of the state under the current and new system, when it should be put before the community.
“I think our best accountability system is one that’s driven by local expectations,” Hicks said. “Our business leaders, our community leaders, our parents, they know what we want for our students.”
Scott said he is hopeful that the voices of the public school districts, the educational organizations and the public will be heard and will be influential. He said his district is like all other schools in that it has room for improvement and will always need to be accountable. He said legislators may have had good intentions in implementing the new accountability system, but it is deeply flawed.
“The people in the legislature may have thought they were doing it for the right reasons, but it’s the wrong way of going about it,” Scott said.