The Fort Worth Independent School District has increased academic performance across the board, garnering a B rating from the Texas Education Agency in accountability grades that will be officially released Monday — the first time the state has graded schools since the coronavirus pandemic paused scores in 2020. The district was given a C in 2019.
But what exactly are accountability scores and how should you use them?
Here’s what the Texas Education Agency recommended shortly after the most recent accountability rating system was signed into law in 2017.
“Communities need schools that are good for all students,” the agency said in an explainer video. “Parents need to know that schools are good for their own children.”
The state grades each individual school as well as the district as a whole. The agency said that a high or low rating reflects how the majority of a student body is performing at that campus or district.
“A high rating such as an A indicates that many students are doing quite well, while a low rating, such as a D or F, would indicate that far too few students are doing well,” the agency explained. “For parents, the rating provides the signal of how likely their own child (is to) be well supported in the school.”
A pandemic-era law is giving the districts and campuses that are struggling the most one more year of reprieve, only allowing campuses to be graded if they make an A, B or C. Campuses that would have gotten a D or F will receive a “not rated” status, similar to what all campuses got over the last two years as the entire system was paused.
Critics of the scores, which were hotly debated before being adopted by the Texas legislature, say that the system is too simplistic for the complex variables that make up a school district’s academic outcomes.
So if you are zoned for a school that has a low rating, should you pull your children out and find a better option?
The agency said the letter grade is just one factor to consider.
“It is possible that an individual student could get strong academic support in a school with a lower letter grade, but more students get strong academic support in schools with higher grades,” they say in the video.
Once the scores are released, you can also dig into the data behind them to see what factored into the grade on txschools.gov
Critics urge caution in reading grades
Zeph Capo, the president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, said parents should read the results, which will be released for campuses Monday, “with a grain of salt.”
“We don’t particularly find it to be an extremely valuable system, especially after the last two years,” Capo said. “Not particularly helpful and, or, in my opinion, very meaningful for what we need to be focusing on.”
The ratings examine student achievement, school progress, and whether districts and campuses are closing achievement gaps among various student groups, according to the agency. Student achievement is a measurement of how much all students know and can do, while school progress measures how much better students are doing compared with previous years or their peers at similar schools, the TEA says.
Although the accountability system has less of a reliance on standardized tests than past accountability measures in the state, Capo and other groups have said it still focuses too much on them — putting vulnerable populations that research shows perform poorly on tests in a difficult situation.
“It’s a shaming system in many ways,” he added. “Schools are in different places, they’re resourced differently throughout the state, so it’s very hard to do the types of comparisons that they want you to do, because kids are not standard kids. And families don’t come standard.”
So what should parents do?
Focus on what they see and communicate with their children’s teachers, Capo said.
“You should know, can my kids write a complete sentence? Are they able to put sentences together to communicate with others? Are they able to understand the text that they are doing?” Capo said. “If your kids can do those things, if they can function at what you would see to be a normal level within society as expected, then I would certainly not put a lot of stock into test scores.”
Outgoing superintendent celebrates achievement
While the efficacy of the rating system will continue to be debated, leaders in Fort Worth schools are celebrating an increase in scores — with the caveat that there is plenty of room for improvement.
“Thanks to the incredible work of our teachers, we have gained 14 points in five years — despite two years of a global pandemic,” outgoing Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent P. Scribner said in a news release Friday. “Furthermore, we know we will see greater numbers of A and B-rated campuses and fewer low-performing schools when the final report is released by the TEA on Monday.”
Those scores match with projections made during a recent board meeting, where officials lauded the work of teachers, but raised alarm about the low levels of African-American students reading and performing math on grade level.
In a presentation, Associate Superintendent Karen Arispe said the district will slash the number of failing schools from 18 to only two. In many subject areas, including third- and fourth-grade reading, the numbers signal a return to progress being made prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While we have the state and the nation telling us that it may take several years, and that is true, we have areas where we’re already seeing students make that recovery because of the hard work of our educators in our schools,” Arispe said at the July 26 board meeting. “So really something to celebrate. And I don’t want to say that that means we’re where we need to be. We know we have areas where we need to grow even more than where we were in 2019.”
Trustee Michael Ryan said that while teachers were doing good work, the data was a call to action.
“To the teachers that did the work, the students that did the work to bring things up, great,” he said. “But when I’m looking at seventh-grade African-American math and we’re at below 10%, you all know the work we got to do. Double that gain to 14% is still not any good. In the end we got to do better.”
Visit star-telegram.com on Monday morning to see how all Tarrant County schools performed in the accountability ratings.