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Texas Senate gives preliminary OK to school-grading bill

Houston Chronicle
March 31, 2015

By Mike Ward

AUSTIN — Individual public schools would be graded on their performance — from an A to an F, much like students — under legislation tentatively approved by the Texas Senate on Monday.

Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said his Senate Bill 6 would establish the new system to let parents know how their children's schools performed. The state's current rating system is similar to a pass-fail approach. Schools are labeled either "met standard" or "improvement required," based mostly on students' scores on standardized exams. State lawmakers in 2009 had ordered a change to the system, which previously had four labels, ranging from "unacceptable" to "exemplary."

"This benefits the parents at all levels," said Taylor, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, noting that 16 other states have adopted similar grading systems for their schools.

He said the grading of individual schools will allow parents to put pressure on districts to improve low-performing schools.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, argued that most low-grade schools will be in poor and minority neighborhoods, a move that unfairly targets students in those schools. He said parents in most of those schools will have little or no way to ensure improvement.

"This is not the panacea. This is not the silver bullet," West said, noting that Virginia recently decided to repeal its school-grading system because of the problems it created.

Officials in Florida also are considering junking the grading for schools, as well, he said.

"If we put a D on a school, what can the parents do?" said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, arguing that the bill will create more problems than it will solve — and is unlikely to force under-performing schools to improve as the sponsors hope.

Despite the concerns, and after about two hours of debate, the measure passed 20-10 along party lines — with Republicans voting for it, and Democrats against.

The Senate's Republican leadership has made a push for more accountability of schools, and to allow parents to have more choice in where their children go to school. Taylor's bill was a key in that push, and approval had been expected despite the opposition.

The measure faces a final vote in the Senate, expected on Tuesday, before it goes to the House for consideration.