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.
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!!
· 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
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:
- 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)
- 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?)
- 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.)
- 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: