Sunday, August 12, 2018

A - F rankings, Why I still don't agree with them, but now I feel guilty about it!

About a year and a half ago, somewhat out of frustration, I posted the blog below about my own kids' experience at schools that somehow didn't make the grade in the Texas accountability system.  The post must have struck a nerve with some people because it got over a half-million views!  That was pretty big stuff for someone whose normal posts reach about 400!  I was interviewed by several publications and the State Commissioner for Education, Mike Morath, even gave me a call to congratulate me.  The response was almost universally positive, save for a few comments from those that classify educators as whiners.  Unfortunately, the discussion was short lived and we all went about our business. Our schools and students kept doing great things, parents kept supporting our schools, and it seems there remains a group committed to showing our schools are not doing a very good job.  Some things never change.

Fast forward to present day.  In the past couple weeks, perhaps in preparation for districts' A-F ratings to go public, a number of high ranking school administrators, many of whom I call friends,  have come out against the rankings and are pleading for a better system.

TASA Issues Statement on Accountability

Educators Don't Agree With A-F

While I could not agree more with the countless educators sharing their views on the accountability system, I can no longer solely blame our Commissioner or even our Legislature without also looking in the mirror at wasted opportunities.  The State has given us small glimpses of hope that it would be willing to offer changes, but I do not think we have taken full advantage of the opportunities.  That is where my own guilt comes from.  We don't need the State system to certify the quality of our schools.  What we need is to place value on the multiple measures for which we advocate.  It is not enough to say the system is unfair.  We have to commit to offering a better solution.

Wasted Opportunities:


In 2011, House Bill 1157 called for districts to apply to be part of the Texas High-Performing Schools Consortium.  My own district was 1 of 22 accepted and the group began to work together to share lessons learned and forge a new path for education.  At the premise of these discussions was the concept of Community Based-Accountability.  Many of us worked with our own stakeholders to create multiple measures to assess our schools.  Here lies the hurdle that many of us can't seem to get past: We are still receiving an annual ranking from the state and while the belief in the locally controlled, multiple measures was strong, so was the pull of having to perform well on a one-day, one test accountability system. The information and desire is still strong as witnessed by the Future Ready Schools website, but we have yet to gain the kind of traction needed for true public acceptance.

Student Centered Schools

Next came House Bill 5 in 2013.  This well publicized bill generated lots of discussion and feedback around the five student endorsement plans designed to have students college and career ready, a far less discussed portion of the bill actually gave the opportunity for schools and districts to finally rate themselves on something other than test scores.  It outlined eight domains that would allow for multiple measures and, yes this is the amazing part, districts would be allowed to set their own system for evaluation!!

·      Fine Arts
·      Wellness & Physical Education
·       Community & Parent Involvement
·       21st Century Workforce Development Program
·       Second Language Acquisition Program
·       Digital Learning Environment
·       Dropout Prevention Strategies
·       Educational Programs for Gifted & Talented Students

It was finally here, locally controlled accountability over multiple measures. 2013-2014 was the first year the system was reported to PEIMS and districts not only were able to create their own measurements, they only had to pick three of the eight.  What happened next might could have been predicted, but it was very unfortunate.  We, as educational leaders, did not take full advantage of this opportunity.  Well over 90% of the districts gave themselves perfect scores.  Little time was put into the development of true measures and when the student achievement didn't match the exemplary ratings, who could blame the State for deeming the experiment a failure.  While HB5 was not perfect, the state did it did open the door for some local control over accountability, but we failed as a profession to truly take advantage of it. And again, I feel guilty about that.

I am ready to call the next piece a missed opportunity as well, although the jury may still be out.  In 2015, House Bill 1842 introduced Districts of Innovation (DOI) as a concept that would allow school districts the opportunity to create their own plans to free themselves from Texas Education Agency mandates. It was praised as a way to honor schools eager to transform with new and innovative ideas, however something just doesn't translate.  You can ask for anything you want but you can't get out of the accountability system. Basically, the state challenged you to find a better way to do "old school".  Here is a link to TEA's information on DOI:

TEA: Districts of Innovation

Why, in my opinion, is the jury still out?  We could start with the fact that the top 4 exemptions asked for as part of DOI are as follows:
  1. School Start Date (I get it. If you start earlier you can finish the first semester before Christmas and start the summer earlier.  All for it)
  2. Teacher Certifications (Again, in some cases, especially in CTE fields where industry experience may be paramount, a person without a teacher certification may be the best person to teach the course. But are we ready as a profession to ask permission not to be certified?)
  3. Class Size (Currently K-4 grades are capped at 22, but I guess the innovative idea is to make the classes bigger?  Again, I understand the proposal but let's be careful what we ask for.)
  4. Class Size Part 2 (This one I love.  In the age of transparency, this exemption allows districts to go over the class size cap and not have to tell parents about it?  Seriously.)
I would suggest that three of the four have everything to do with saving a district time and money and nothing to do with innovative teaching and learning. That is not to say that districts haven't tried to be innovative, but the combination of the rules surrounding DOI applications don't truly call for school transformation.  I am guilty on this one too.  Other than changing our calendar, I am still working with others to find innovative ideas that fit our districts needs.  To read more about DOI's implementation:

Texas Classroom Teachers Association - Districts of Innovation: The Reality

Top Twenty Exemptions for Districts of Innovation

So why did I write this tonight, especially at the risk of alienating some of my educator friends? Because I want us to do better and I think we can.  I am tired of waiting for the legislature to send a miracle that will save our public schools.  I am tired of trying to explain/defend an A-F system that really doesn't make sense as a comprehensive tool to measure schools (On a side note, the state delayed A-F for campus ratings.  Two years wasn't long enough to figure it out.).  But I am also tired of feeling guilty that we haven't done enough to show what our schools really can do.  In my district we have developed 12 indicators and rubrics to measure what we think is important (the eight indicators from the original HB5 plus four locally developed academic goals).  They are designed to be difficult to achieve, but more importantly, they were developed by our district stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members) to show what we value in our community.  I choose not to be frustrated anymore about an accountability system that does nothing for us.  Instead I pledge to focus on what is important to our schools and the community we serve and I commit to sharing the results that matter most.  Schools deserve it.

To see our Community Based Accountability rubrics:

NISD CBAS

#guiltfreeeducator

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