Grades and testing - two things that are synonymous with schools, right? Since 1947, children have entered classrooms in Community ISD where dedicated teachers teach and our Braves learn. Assignments are given, tests are taken and grades are recorded. And for generations, parents from Lavon, Copeville, Nevada and Josephine have looked at report cards brought home by their children and had one of two reactions: “Great job!” or “This is not good enough.” If you are anything like me, you expect to see good grades on your child’s report card and if they bring home grades lower than what you know they are capable of, you will be asking some tough questions.
A History Lesson
While some things (like parents’ expectations for a good report card) have not changed over the last 70 years, we know that many things in public education are drastically different. And one thing that seems to be constantly changing in Texas is the way the state measures how well students and schools are performing.
If you were to take a look at the history of the legislative changes to standardized testing and accountability in Texas, your head might start spinning. Under each accountability system the criteria and formulas used by the state to determine which rating a school or district “earns” varies from year to year. Imagine constantly trying to hit a moving target. It is a hard thing to do. Educators are continuously adjusting, innovating and adapting how we do what we do in order to meet the standards set forth by the state.
Despite making headlines nationwide for problems associated with standardized testing in Texas, and despite the fact that the A-F rating system has not been successful in several other states, our elected officials in Austin have once again changed the rules of the game for public schools.
2017 Preliminary A-F Report Cards
The A-F accountability system is a result of the passage of HB 2804 in 2015 and is not scheduled to go into effect until August of 2018. However, this week we received our “what if” report card. The report includes letter grades for each campus and the district in four areas (Student Performance, Student Progress, Closing Performance Gaps and Postsecondary Readiness). The ratings below are the result of a “trial run” of very complex formulas which are based mostly on the performance of our students on the 2015-16 state mandated tests (STAAR).
Keep in mind this is a report that Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath calls “a work-in-progress.” Morath also said the proposed models for calculating the grades for each of the four categories are not fixed and will likely change before next fall. Another moving target.
Our actual accountability ratings of "Met Standard" - which is the highest available rating under the current system - are still in effect.
As you can see, even though we Met and EXCEEDED every performance standard across all four indexes and earned four total Distinctions from TEA (for performing in the top 25%) under the current accountability system, the new “Preliminary, Work-in-Progress” A-F system devised by the Texas Education Agency is not reflective of this accomplishment. Nonetheless, these preliminary grades are part of an accountability system which we will embrace, and I wanted to be the first to share them with you.
Now, if you are anything like me this report card has you saying “This is not good enough.” I am a parent just like many of you, and no matter how tough the teacher is or what the criteria may be, I expect my kids to make A’s and B’s, because I know they are capable of doing so. This is no different. Regardless of the flaws and inevitable changes that will come with this rating system, our goal is to be a district of excellence. We are not satisfied to be average. Since the very first TEA ratings were issued in 2004, Community ISD as a district has always met the standards set for us by the state and we will continue to do so. But, “passing” grades are not enough. I know we are capable of more. So, now that we have our sneak peek at what the A-F system will grade us on, we are going to continue to work hard to implement the changes that will result in the honor roll report card we all expect.
If you are frustrated, like I am, that our lawmakers (most of whom have never worked in a public school) continue to make decisions that impact our children without the input of parents and educators, I encourage you to contact your representatives. Keep in mind that the 2017 Texas Legislature has the authority to change the law that established Texas’ A-F system.
As a parent, I ask that you continue to speak with your child everyday about their school experience and foster a positive relationship with your student’s teachers and principals. In Community ISD we believe in giving our students learning experiences every day. I personally believe that education is my ministry and I can tell you that the teachers and staff members of Community ISD have accepted a huge responsibility in shaping the future of America. We understand and embrace that we should be held accountable for the education of the students who have been entrusted to us. I want you to know that we are going to be here working hard everyday to make sure the children of Community ISD Experience the BLUE!
Believe. Lead. Unite. Excel.
Dr. Roosevelt Nivens
P.S. We are not alone in our frustration with these preliminary A-F ratings. Click here to see what districts across the state are saying and check our A-F Ratings webpage (www.communityisd.org/afratings) for more information and resources on the A-F Rating System.