Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.
As students and teachers return for the first day of classes this week, the Texas Education Agency released its 2018 accountability ratings of school districts Wednesday under the agency’s newly implemented A-F grading system.
Grayson County school districts received overall grades throughout that spectrum. The Denison Independent School District was given a “B” grade, while the Sherman Independent School District received a “C.” The Bells Independent School District and Van Alstyne Independent School District each received "A" grades. The Gunter Independent School District, Howe Independent School District, Pottsboro Independent School District, S&S Consolidated Independent School District, Whitesboro Independent School District and Whitewright Independent School District all received "B" grades. The Collinsville Independent School District received a "C" grade and the Tom Bean Independent School District received an "F" grade.
The new grades reflect the 2017-2018 academic year and are based upon students’ scores on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, graduation rates, post-secondary readiness, academic growth and districts’ ability close student performance gaps. The release of grades Wednesday morning prompted superintendents from Sherman ISD and Denison ISD to issue statements about their grades and their criticisms of the system.
“Our parents and community know that school accountability is much more complex than just a test score and that the real success of a child cannot be measured by a single test,” Sherman ISD Superintendent David Hicks said of the grading system’s heavy reliance on STARR exam and testing results during a press conference Wednesday morning. “Rather, true achievement is best evidenced all year long in the challenging assignments teachers provide, the quality of work students do and how children grow into well rounded graduates exhibiting success in academics the arts and athletics.”
In an emailed release distributed Wednesday, Denison ISD Superintendent Henry Scott decried the grading system as the work of lawmakers looking to undermine public education and garner more support for charter schools and related tuition-voucher programs.
“This system is not a step in the right direction,” Scott said in the release. “Supposedly, the agency has begun using letter grades in an effort to make it easier for the public to understand, but what the public needs to realize is that this is merely an attempt by the legislature to further their agenda of school choice. They continue to paint a grim picture of failing public schools by connecting our accountability to student performance on STAAR/EOC (end-of-course) tests.”
The A-F grades replace the state’s previous accountability system which remained in place through the 2017-2018 school year and assessed districts on the “met standard" or “improvement required” designations. Individual campuses were assessed with “met standard" or “improvement required” designations this year, but will also be graded under the new A-F system starting in 2019. In early 2017, the TEA rolled out unofficial equivalency scores to let districts know how they were projected to perform under the A-F system and most districts across the state found themselves with overall scores ranging from “C” to “F.”
Proponents of the system say it’s designed to be easily understood by parents and student families, but the switch has led many school districts to speak out and band together in their opposition. In January 2017, 60 school districts from across North Texas, including Sherman ISD, Denison ISD and Gunter ISD, announced their participation in the Legislative Priorities resolution, which called on Texas lawmakers to do away with the grading system. On Wednesday, the Texas Association of School boards said the A-F grades were uninformative and unlikely to lead to significant changes or improvements in the education system.
“These new A-F labels will not automatically change student performance in school, nor will they bring solutions to lower-performing schools,” the association said in a press release. “Most importantly, new A-F labels tell educators, parents, and communities little if anything new or useful about their local schools.”
Sherman ISD and Denison ISD, along with many other school districts opposing the new system, have said they believe in accountability, but feel as though the community should have a greater say in determining a district’s score and how it can improve.
To see the Texas Education Agency’s 2018 complete accountability ratings and scoring formulas, visit txschools.org.