Published 2:10 pm Friday, May 26, 2017

Working into the wee hours of Thursday morning, the Senate approved tweaks to the new school accountability system on the last day to pass bills in the 85th session.   HB 22 was the very last bill considered, and it would make changes to the system that rates individual campuses on an A through F basis, approved just last session.   2016 was a try out for the new standards, and schools were given non-binding grades to see how they would measure up when the system officially begins in August next year. The dry run tested schools in five categories, called domains, which measured performance and improvement on standardized STAAR exams, college readiness and improvement in at-risk student performance.   About two-thirds of campuses received an A, B or C letter grade in test performance and readiness, but 42 percent of campuses failed on closing the gaps for at-risk groups.

The bill passed by the Senate early Thursday morning would make changes to the domains, reducing them from five to four.   The first domain would measure student performance on standardized tests but would also consider how well students are prepared for college, the workforce or the military after they graduate high school. The second would look at school performance, gauging improvement on standardized tests and would also compare schools to similar campuses, ranking them within cohorts. The third domain would give schools a say in their evaluations, allowing them to self-assess while also considering the number of students completing rigorous curriculum like Advanced Placement courses or career and technology programs.   The fourth and final domain, added in an amendment on the floor, would look solely at closing the gaps, grading schools on how well they serve their most vulnerable students.

Before the A-F system was passed in 2015, schools were given one of two grades: meets standards and needs improvement. Senate Education Committee Chair and Friendswood Senator Larry Taylor, who shepherded HB 22 through the Senate, told members that the old system considered any school performing better than the worst seven percent of schools was considered “satisfactory.” “So if you’re in the eighth percentile today, your campus, as far as your parents know, you’ve met standards,” he said. “The idea that 95 or 93 percent of our districts have met standards, we have to do better than that.”   The new system is intended to give a more granular, clearer picture of campus performance, allowing parents to know just how well an individual school is performing, and also whether it is generally getting better or getting worse.   “We’re not going to get rid of A through F, this is very important that we do this, other states have done it, it’s made dramatic improvements,” said Taylor. “This provides all kinds of great opportunities to improve our educational system.” The new accountability system will begin officially counting for schools in August 2018. The adjustments approved by the Senate in HB 22 on Thursday will have to be considered by the House before the bill can go to the Governor to be signed into law.

Though the deadline for considering and passing bills has passed, there’s still plenty of work for lawmakers to accomplish before the session ends on Monday. Many critical bills, including the state budget, are still in conference committee as the two chambers work out differences between House and Senate versions of legislation. Over the next five days, lawmakers will present compromise versions of these bills to their respective chambers, where a simple up or down vote will decide if they head on to the Governor’s desk.

The Senate will reconvene Friday, May 26 at 1:30 p.m.