The state of Texas has taken statistics on how well students have done on a state-mandated test and turned it into a 194-page manual on how to grade that school district.
Created by Texas Education Agency leader Mike Morath, the formula for school district report cards that debuted last year has left many school districts across the state fuming over scores based on one day of testing, befuddled over how complex and seemingly redundant the formula is and disheartened over an apparent return to bad accountability practices.
Texas State Teachers Association president Noel Candelaria said in 2018 that the A-F system was “designed by the governor and the legislative majority to pass the blame for their own (school funding) failures to children
Many school districts are furious over the accountability grading system, set up to resemble a typical school report card, with a percentage grade representing A-F letter grades.
According to a simplified overview of the formula from Lead4Ward, an education consultant group, the Texas school district accountability system is broken into three parts, Domain I, which focuses on student achievement; Domain II, which focuses on a mixture of academic growth and relative performance; and Domain III, which looks at closing the education gaps, a general mix of the two previous domains. And, of course, the metrics for each of these domains is different depending on if they measure a middle/elementary school or a high school/district overall.
Whatever performance score a student makes on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests, the percentage grade falls into one of four performance levels: did not meet grade level, which is failing; approaches grade level, which is passing, but barely; meets grade level; and masters grade level. And, each level is weighted differently. Did not meet gets nothing, approaches gets counted once, meets is counted twice and masters gets counted three times.
Paris ISD Assistant Superintendent Althea Dixon said schools can’t just focus on mastery, though.
“You can have this all day (masters students) and still end up with a bad score,” she said at the Paris ISD school board meeting last week.
Take an average of the percent of the three pass levels, dividing by three, and that is the domain score for an elementary/middle school. For high schools and district scores, that average is weighed at 40%, and added to the college, career and military readiness scores, which count for another 40%, and the graduation percentage rate, which is 20% of the overall score.
The second domain is based on two parts: how much the student’s score has grown from one year to the next and the relative performance of the school or district based on the number of economically disadvantaged students.
The third domain is broken into four components. For middle/elementary schools, academic growth counts for half of the score, with academic achievement counting 30%, STAAR performance at 10% and English language proficiency for non-native speakers counts for the final 10%.
For high school and district Domain III scores, academic achievement counts as 50% of the score, college and career readiness as 30%, the federal graduation rate is 10% and English proficiency is 10%.
“Either you get it or you don’t,” Dixon said. “You lose all 10% if you don’t meet that criteria, and it is just as tough as growth, because it says that whatever level these kids are at, the next year they better be higher.”
For the overall rate of a school or district, the third domain counts as 30%. The remaining 70% is up to whichever score in the other domains is strongest: Domain I, Domain II-a (academic growth) or Domain II-b (relative performance). Academic growth can count for up to 70% of the overall score for a high school or district or even 85% for a middle or elementary school.
And, many, many components of the composite score count on growth in that particular category, such as graduation rate. Dixon said if one year the graduation rate is 93, the next year, in order for it to count, it has to be at least 93.1. Every year must be better than the next or the district/school is penalized.
That overall rate is pushed to a sliding scale, another formula, that represents the final grade.
The state of Texas can take over a school board with one failing school, what many believe will happen to Houston ISD, or force the district to form a partnership with a charter school, which some have deemed a corporate takeover of a democratically elected school board.
Morath has rebutted school districts’ objections to his accountability system, saying it “recognizes all that happens in Texas public schools.”
“It is not just about performance on standardized tests,” he said. “It is a balanced indicator system that includes recognition of graduation rates, AP exams, industry credentials and SAT scores.