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School districts question new accountability rating

by Kevin Hamilton
The Texas Education Association released “mock” ratings this month for public schools in the state, and Austin is already seeing backlash from a large number of school districts – including Iowa Park – claiming the new accountability is flawed and misleading.
In 2015 the 84th Texas Legislature passed HB 2804, changing the school accountability system so that every campus and district receives one of five ratings from A-F in four “domain” areas.
The official ratings won’t start until 2018, but the bill called for “mock” ratings to be released in January of this year, based primarily on the results of the STAAR test.
Iowa Park CISD received a grade of “B” in Domain 1, “C” in Domain 2, “C” in Domain 3, and “B” in Domain 4, resulting in an overal “B” rating for the district.
“Our district scores are good compared to statewide scores,” said IPCISD Superintendent Steve Moody. “I have seen many district scores that are not good.”
Scores from other schools within Iowa Park’s UIL districts include Bridgeport (C-F-D-B), Burkburnett (C-C-D-D), Graham (C-D-D-C), Vernon (D-D-D-C) and Wichita Falls (C-C-D-C).
“I personally do not believe there is value or merit in placing a single grade on a school based on one standardized test,” Moody said Tuesday. “The grades we received in this proposed accountability rating system do not change how we feel about our schools. We have consistently provided an excellent education for the students of Iowa Park and we will continue to provide for the individual learning needs of all our students.”
According to an article in Monday’s Dallas Morning News, educators from 60 North Texas districts united Monday to “fight school vouchers and a new statewide grading system they say serves only to vilify schools.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has indicated school choice, which include voucher-like tax credits or similar options, will be among his top priorities in the 85th Texas Legislature session, which began earlier this week.
“But the area’s school leaders said such efforts would only siphon money from public schools and hurt children most in need because they don’t have the transportation and other means to take advantage of such options,” the article read.
With the provisional grades released Friday just prior to the start of the 85th session, the group said the timing only reinforced educators’ fears that the new A’F system is politically motivated.
Moody said “The state has created a rating system based on calculations of formulas that include unexplainable, arbitrary variables and target scores that create an inequitable distribution of grades, leaving districts scratching their heads as we try to make sense of this complex scoring system.
“The vast majority of school districts are frusted and confused by the punitive implications and negative publicity that has been unfairly placed on schools and communities,” he added.
In a statement from the Commission of Education regarding the A-F rating system, he said “The ratings in this report are for informational purposes to meet a legislative requirement and represent work-in-progress models that are likely to change before A-F ratings become effective in August, 2018. No inferences about official district or campus performance in the 2015-16 school year should be drawn from these ratings, and these ratings should not be considered predictors of future district or campus performance ratings.”
Moody noted “There is a dialogue that the grades are politically driven in the push for vouchers and private schools. This opic will command much discussion and will be heavily debated during the Legislative session that begins this week. We will hold the commission to his word; that this report is for informational purposes and no inferences should be drawn from these ratings. I do believe that one thing to come out of this Legislative session will be major changes to this accountibility system before it becomes official in 2018.”
For now, said Moody, Iowa Park CISD will move forward with their current priorities intact.
“Iowa park CISD has great teachers and great students, and I am proud of the work we do to ensure the success of our students,” he said.
“The teachers work hard and are dedicated to providing a well-rounded quality education for all students to prepare them for the future. We will not put much stock in the letter grades, as it is not a true reflection of the accomplishments of our students. As with any accountability system, our teachers and administrators will utilize the data to improve learning.
“The students in Iowa Park will continue to be our number one concern.”