Will A-F school ratings make the grade in Texas?

Published 1:15 pm Monday, January 23, 2017

By Kenric Ward


A new “A-F” grading system that rates Texas’ public schools is getting mixed reviews from education activists.

“It’s very detailed oriented and actionable,” says Courtney Boswell, president of Texas Aspires, an education advocacy group. “Parents know and understand letter grades. This should be a motivator for change and reform.”

But Allan Parker, president of the San Antonio-based Justice Foundation, says the accountability program has limits.

“A grading system without consumer choice is not that great,” he told Watchdog.org.

As Texas lawmakers take another run at enacting school choice legislation this year, the state revamped its accountability program. Instead of broadly classifying schools as “met standards” or “inadequate,” the Texas Education Agency is applying letter grades to each campus.

Boswell says the added specificity will aid schools such as the George Gervin Academy, which serves a low socieoeconomic student body in San Antonio. Previously, the campus led by Democratic state Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins “met standards”; the new grading protocol gives the school an “A” for improving student achievement.

Parker said the 2017 grades provide more information and “reveals hidden failures.”

“It details subgroups, such as a school where white students score 90 percent on tests while 90 percent of blacks are failing,” he said.

Under the previous system, that campus could have “met standards.”

Parker predicted “massive pushback” from school districts that get poor grades.

Among the complainers, the Texas Association of School Administrators said the A-F system was too dependent on standardized testing.

Some critics have suggested that the state had set arbitrary allocations for each letter grade — a charge denied by the TEA.

“They’re never going to be happy with accountability until they can grade themselves,” Boswell said of district officials.

Parker recalled that the state caved to poor-performing districts after more than half of Texas K-12 campuses failed to achieve adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind program in 2012.

A poster child for scholastic dysfunction is Kashmere High School in Houston. Watchdog reported last month that the school has failed to meet state standards for seven straight years, yet remains open — and there is no indication that the state’s new grading system will change things.

“The [new] rating system exposes the greatest flaw in the Texas education system. It is a government monopoly that consistently opposes any real accountability,” said Parker, an attorney who previously represented school districts around the state.

Round Rock Independent School District, highlighting grade manipulation at the local level, announced last year that it eliminated D’s from report cards to keep athletes eligible to play.

Now schools across the state are passing resolutions declaring they don’t want to receive grades themselves.

“If we want true accountability, Texans must implement education savings accounts and let the money follow the child to the school of the parents’ choice — pubic or private,” Parker asserted.

Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at kward@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @Kenricward.