By Griffin Saltron, February 6, 2024
The academic accountability system is a complicated amalgamation of a variety of data points, a major part of which is the state’s A-F school and district ratings. The A-F grade that a school or district receives is a valuable tool that tells parents how well their student’s school is performing in comparison to schools across the state. In 2020, as a result of COVID-19, this information was withheld from parents as all schools and districts received Not Rated on their report cards. A similar occurrence may happen for the 2023 A-F ratings, not as a result of a declared state of emergency, but because of ongoing litigation between the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and numerous school districts. At the core of the issue is a change TEA made to the College, Career, and Military Readiness (CCMR) component of the Student Achievement domain.
The Student Achievement domain is one of three domains that make up the A-F ratings, the others being School Progress and Closing the Gaps. This domain encapsulates STAAR scores, graduation rates, and the CCMR component. The CCMR accounts for 40% of the Student Achievement domain and is calculated by the percentage of annual graduates that meet a variety of metrics. The CCMR is most critical for high schools, as it is the indicator of how many graduating seniors are entering the workforce or furthering their education to be successful members of society; whether it be through college, a non-collegiate career, or service in the military. Under the current iteration of the Academic Accountability System, all that is needed for a high school to receive an A in the CCMR section is “if 60% of their seniors… enrolled in college, pursued a non-college career, or went to the military.”
After finding that the mean CCMR rate for the class of 2021 across Texas was 65%, TEA correctly concluded that the current cut score did not indicate a high performance, but an average one. To better align the goals of Texas schools with their performance, TEA is currently in the process of updating the scores required for receiving an A and a C such that a C indicates the average, and an A indicates high performance, as is intended when utilizing letter grades. TEA would do this by increasing the CCMR score required to receive an A in that section from 65% to 88% and setting a standard of 60% for being able to receive a C.
Unfortunately, TEA’s updates are being delayed after more than a hundred school districts took legal action to stop the new ratings from being issued. School districts oppose the timing of the changes, with Frisco ISD Superintendent Mike Waldrip stating that the lack of “advanced notice will potentially give the appearance that schools across the state, including Frisco ISD, are declining.
However, the lawsuit also reflects a broader opposition to the A-F rating system among many school districts. When the A-F system was originally enacted, half of the school districts in the state signed resolutions opposing the change. In the 2023 legislative session, both the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators supported legislation that would have watered-down the academic components of the accountability system by introducing non-academic components (such as physical fitness and participation in extra-curricular activities) into A-F ratings.
The improvements being pursued by TEA are a step in the right direction for the A-F rating system to better reflect success and performance. In 2015, the legislature replaced the previous pass/fail system with the current A-F system in part to show a difference between those schools that are high-performing and those that are meeting the standard. Previously, there was no variation between an A-rated school and a C-rated school. Parents would just be able to see if their school met standards. Unfortunately, with the initial implementation of the new system and efforts to water down scores, the ratings are skewed right, even when including schools listed as “Not Rated” due to low performance. An A-F rating system at such a large scale should showcase a normal bell curve and a failure of the data to do so indicates a problem with the system. Essentially, it recreates a pass/fail system under the guise of A-F ratings.
The average Student Achievement score in 2022 was 84, equating to a B average in terms of rating. As previously stated, the CCMR makes up 40% of the score, meaning that this proposed change by TEA would likely normalize the data, at least for high schools. While some schools would likely receive a lower letter grade, it would be more accurate in showcasing performance, thereby improving the integrity of the A-F system. These ratings are not for schools, they are for parents to make the best possible informed decision about the education of their students. Whether now or in the future, TEA and the legislature should continue to make these adjustments to create a better picture of school performance in the future. The A-F rating system is still in its infancy and these adjustments should not only be expected, but viewed as necessary in order to make the system as meaningful and useful as possible.