Published 10:05 am Monday, May 1, 2017

Members of the Senate Education Committee Thursday heard two bills that would make changes to the public education accountability system passed last session. In 2015, the Legislature created a new system to judge school quality at both the campus and district level and assign each school a grade on the A-F scale. One proposal offered Thursday would make significant changes to the system and the other would only make minor changes and leave the current system mostly intact.

The current system evaluates district and school performance in five categories, called domains in statute. Three rely on student performance on standardized STAAR exams and account for more than half of a campus’ letter grade. These are student performance on the STAAR, student improvement on the STAAR, and improvement for economically disadvantaged students, typically referred to as “closing the gaps”. For the other two domains, one looks at how well students are prepared for success after high school, and the other gives schools a chance to rate themselves on performance. All five areas are scored and a grade is assigned; A through C is considered acceptable, and D or F is considered failing.

The new system doesn’t officially kick in until August 2018, but the Texas Education Agency released preliminary grades for each domain except school self-evaluation in January. The first two domains had nearly identical pass/fail rates, with about a third of all campuses receiving a D or F rating. For domain three, closing the gaps, about 42 percent of campuses received a failing grade. The final category, college readiness, saw just under a third of campuses getting failing marks.

The first bill before the Education Committee Thursday, SB 2051 by Friendswood Senator and committee Chair Larry Taylor, would make significant changes to the system. It would cut the number of domains from five to three. One domain would be student achievement, measured by STAAR scores as well as graduation rates and other post-secondary readiness measurements for high schools.   The second domain would measure improvement on assessment measures and weight them based on performance to similar campuses. The final domain would allow the school to grade itself on performance and also considers student completion of rigorous classwork, such as Advanced Placement classes, or completion of career and technology courses. It would also change a current requirement to review the system every two years to a less specific interval to encourage consistency in how schools are rated over time.

The second measure, SB 1173 by Lubbock Senator Charles Perry, would only eliminate attendance as a metric for the college readiness category for elementary and middle schools, leaving the rest of the system as is.   College readiness under the current system depends solely on the chronic absenteeism rate for pre-K through 5th grade, and half of the readiness score for middle schools. Perry said the most common complaint about the system from his constituents has been this attendance metric. “A school district can’t be held accountable for something they don’t or can’t control,” he said. His measure would simply remove attendance metrics for elementary and middle schools.

Both measures remain before the committee as members continue to work on the issue. Taylor told members he welcomes stakeholder input in the process. “I look forward to hearing from administrators and other interested stakeholders on how to improve this bill and our accountability system as a whole,” he said. “A robust and meaningful school accountability system is key to ensuring Texas is successful in the years and decades to come. ”

The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 1 at 1 p.m.