Van Alstyne Independent School District earned top honors in the county with a rating of 97 by the Texas Education Agency for the 2018-2019 school year. Accountability ratings are issued Thursday by the Texas Education Agency, who ranked districts and schools across the state were performing based on an “A through F” scale.

For this year, the TEA is rating individual schools on the A through F scale for the first time after previously using a simplified pass or fail system. This mirrors a similar system that was put in place for districts starting last year.

“Performance continues to improve in Texas schools because of the tireless effort of Texas teachers, administrators and staff,” Education Commissioner Mike Morath said. “I am particularly proud of the educators at the 296 high-poverty schools that achieved an A rating this year.”

The latest results saw significant improvement in other districts, with Tom Bean ISD improving from a score of 59 in 2017-2018 to an 83 in the most recent ratings. Sherman ISD also saw a three-point improvement when it rose from 79 to 82 and scored a B in its latest report card.

VAISD Superintendent David Brown attributed the success in the recent ratings to the combined efforts of administrators, teachers and students alike. Among the places where the district has seen growth over the past year was an 11 point improvement on reading scores on the fourth grade STAAR test results.

“I am proud of how our students worked, our faculty and administrators worked, and proud of the community for the support that allowed us to do as well as we have,” Brown said.

Van Alstyne placed among the highest rated schools in the state in the latest ratings. There were only 12 schools that scored above a 97, and of those eight were charter or magnet schools that attract high-achieving students.

Brown was critical of the A through F system as a whole as it placed heavy significance on the STAAR tests while focusing on the results of one day of the student’s school year.

“An A,B,C,D,F gives a perspective of what is going on, but it doesn’t cover everything,” he said. “As a parent myself, I want to know my kids are doing well on social skills and becoming good people and not just worried about a test.”

These sentiments were shared by Tom Bean ISD Superintendent Kelly Lusk, despite the district’s improvement over the previous year.

“While we are very proud of the accomplishments of the district, but letter grades based on a state test hold districts accountable for many things they have no control over,” he said. “The reduction of a district or campus to a single grade reduces the variance and the difference between individual schools and their populations.

“The students, teachers and parents of Tom Bean know we have an excellent school system regardless of the TEA ratings. We have a good district this year and we had a good district last year.”

Gunter ISD saw a six-point improvement over its scores from last year and was awarded a 91, or an A. Despite the success, Superintendent Jill Siler said she has been working with the Texas Public Accountability Consortium to develop a more nuanced accountability system that takes into account more aspects of a student’s success.

Siler noted that 86 percent of high schools in the recent release received a score of an A or a B. However, only 55 percent and 56 percent of elementary and middle school students received the same ratings. Siler attributed this in part to the higher number of scoring criteria that are placed on high school scoring, while elementary and middle school results are based primarily on STAAR test results.

With that in mind, Siler said this places even further pressure on rural districts due to their smaller size. If a small school were to have only a few students perform poorly, it could skew the results more than a larger district with the same number of students performing poorly on standardized testing.

“If I had just three students walk min having a bad day, just had a 7 to 9 percent swing on my results,” she said.

Denison ISD Superintendent Henry Scott, who commended his district for scoring an 86 on the ratings, also noted that on the elementary level the system puts an undue handicap on districts that have kindergarten through fourth grade in the elementary level.

One of the criteria refers to student performance from one year to the next and evaluates the improvement a student shows. However, Scott said this only allows for one year of possible progression from the third to the fourth grade, where other schools would also have scores from the fifth grade to give a more thorough representation.

On average, scores from the fourth grade to the fifth grade historically increase by about 10 to 15 points in what Scott referred to as the fifth grade bump.