TEXAS VIEW: Fair TEA ratings needed for public school districts

THE POINT: Lawsuit argues accountability changes were announced without advance notice.

A Travis County judge has temporarily blocked the Texas Education Agency from releasing its new and “unlawful,” A-F 2022–23 school year performance ratings for public schools and districts. While this provides some relief for districts, the issue is far from resolved. It’s also an issue that should never have arisen.

According to the lawsuit joined by more than 100 school districts across the state, the TEA’s plan would “retroactively change the rules in a way that will arbitrarily lower performance ratings for many school districts and campuses even though their performance improved.”

The lawsuit argues that the accountability changes were announced without the advance notice to school districts required by law.

The bar that determines if schools receive an A, B, C, D or F hasn’t changed since 2017, when House Bill 22 was passed. While it’s required that accountability indicators be updated periodically, this is not the way. Districts deserve fair goal posts for assessment.

In September, the TEA delayed its release of the new ratings until late October or early November. Then on Oct. 26, Travis County Judge Catherine Mauzy temporarily blocked it from releasing this year’s annual school ratings after finding that new system would harm districts across the state. A trial date is set for Feb. 12. The TEA plans to appeal.

So, districts and schools still don’t know how the TEA will grade them for the last school year. That means parents and teachers don’t know where their schools stand.

“This ruling completely disregards the laws of this state and, for the foreseeable future, prevents any A-F performance information from being issued to help millions of parents and educators improve the lives of our students,” the TEA said in a statement.

The failure to issue A-F ratings falls on the TEA, not Mauzy’s ruling. If TEA hadn’t shifted the ratings in a way that would lower grades despite improved academic performance, then parents and educators would have vital assessment information.

In a joint statement, the plaintiffs said they looked forward to “future conversations with Commissioner of Education Mike Morath about how to implement the assessment and accountability system in a manner that is fair and transparent for all school districts in the State of Texas.”

That’s not asking much of the TEA and Morath.

It’s ironic that school educators, trained experts who assess students daily using metrics mandated and regulated by the TEA, could get assessed in a manner that never would be approved for use in their classrooms.

We can’t ignore the interesting timing of the new ratings. At the very time the state has sought to roll out the new accountability ratings that would lower the letter grades for many schools and districts, many state lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott are pushing private school vouchers that would further siphon funds from public schools.

School superintendents across the state have been outspoken about this issue. Northeast ISD Superintendent Sean Maika published a six-part video series about the state accountability system that informs parents and the community about the ratings delay, the new STAAR, changes in standards and “what if” ratings.

Maika and other superintendents are working to inform stakeholders of the impact of the TEA’s new, flawed accountability system and change it before it harms their school districts and students.

School assessment is inherently complicated. As Maika explained in his sixth video, the 2022 and 2023 school years aren’t comparable because the state made significant changes to the three domains within the accountability system’s assessment of student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps. The STAAR test also was redesigned.

The TEA must evaluate the efficacy of schools not only by test scores and other such data, but by other critical factors.

All schools should have robust libraries, and excellent administrators, teachers, nurses and counselors. Every school should offer programs in academics, fine arts and activities that teach and challenge all students of all backgrounds, helping them grow and flourish.

The TEA must get this right. No more surprises. No retroactive, unfair school ratings.

San Antonio Express-News