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Opinion: What accountability ratings don’t say about Texas schools
By Josh Mcgee
The Texas Education Agency recently released new accountability ratings showing that 90 percent of the state’s school districts are meeting the TEA standard. The results have left many parents asking: “How high did we set the bar?” And the fact is, we simply don’t know. These “pass/fail” ratings, where nearly every campus is rated as “Met Standard” (passing), tell us very little about the quality of our schools.
The TEA says its performance index framework is focused on four key areas: student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps and postsecondary readiness. However, it’s difficult to determine how a district or campus rating relates to actual student performance, and it’s nearly impossible to compare one campus to the next. It is conceivable that Texas has an extremely rigorous standard that nearly all of our schools are meeting, but we simply have no way of knowing that based on these ratings. Furthermore, it is very unlikely that so many schools really are achieving satisfactory results.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, fewer than one-third of fourth-graders (28 percent) and eighth-graders (31 percent) in Texas are proficient in reading. In math, the results are a bit better, but even in that subject, fewer than half of Texas students tested earned scores at the proficient level (41 percent of fourth-graders, 38 percent of eighth-graders). How is it possible that nearly all of the school districts in Texas are meeting the state standard when so many of our children missed the mark in these critical subjects?
We shouldn’t be left to wonder. Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams has supported efforts to provide greater transparency. However, the changes won’t happen soon enough. For example, Texas is moving to an A-F rating system that will provide school districts with letter grades based on student performance, but that system isn’t scheduled to be implemented until the 2016-17 school year. We shouldn’t have to wait another three years for an accountability system that delivers useful information to parents, and, ultimately, we need to create a system that goes beyond district ratings and provides grades for individual campuses.
Families need access to clear, reliable information so they can evaluate their children’s schools. That’s why University of Arkansas professor Jay Greene and I created the Global Report Card, which tells families how their school districts stack up against the very best school systems across the nation and around the world. I am now building upon this work as vice president of public accountability at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. The LJAF team is working with grantees to develop tools that will grade every school in the United States against national and international benchmarks.
There should be nothing to hide, and it shouldn’t take a team of research analysts to figure out which schools are doing well. Parents ought to be able to clearly understand the state standards and know whether students are meeting them. It is only when we are willing to face the facts and put them all out in the open that we will truly know whether our schools are making the grade.
Josh McGee is vice president of public accountability at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. He can be reached at [email protected].