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Central Texas Schools Get Middling Grades Under New State Rating System

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr/KUT

Many Central Texas school districts received mediocre grades from the state under a new accountability system, according to a report of preliminary grades obtained by KUT.

The new system rates schools on an A-F scale, rather than the previous pass/fail system. According to the report, Austin, Georgetown, Hays, Manor and San Marcos ISDs received D's in post-secondary readiness, while Bastrop ISD received an F.

That category considers graduation rates, the number of students who take Advanced Placement courses, SAT/ACT scores, the number of students who complete career and technical courses and military service.

The preliminary report uses 2015-16 data to rate schools based on four factors: student achievement on standardized tests, student progress on those tests, how well districts are closing performance gaps among students and postsecondary readiness.

Many public school districts and charter schools received mixed grades, with acceptable grades in some categories and unacceptable grades in others, which Austin ISD School Board President Kendall Pace says could be problematic. (You can view the full Central Texas results below.)

“We went from that lower pass or pass/fail system to now a much more differentiated one where we have higher passing rates and another failing category in D,” Pace said. Under the new system, Ds and Fs are considered unacceptable. “It makes for great headlines or tagline in a story, but it’s likely misleading the public and masking its overall success.”

For example, Pace pointed to Blackshear Elementary, which received two As and a B in the student achievement, student progress and closing performance gaps categories, but received an F in postsecondary success. That category only considers chronic absenteeism for elementary schools. Pace says this new system is complicated and schools can receive a poor grade in a category based on a few students. She’s afraid how that may affect an entire school’s reputation.

“If you know nothing about it or are just moving into the city and you say, ‘Oh, F! Forget it, we’re not looking at that school,’" Pace said. "Some of these beg to understand what the difference in story is, but that’s only if you’re intellectually curious and have the time. Otherwise you look at that and go, ‘Oh, forget it. That’s not a good high school.’”

Nearby, public school boards including Austin, Dripping Springs, and Manor have passed resolutions calling on the state to repeal the new system. Districts argue it relies too heavily on STAAR tests to grade campuses. While 16 other states have implemented similar systems, these districts argue there is no proof that A-F ratings improve student and school performance.  

“It’s interesting that these scores fell on the same day that Texas was ranked nationally as having a school finance system that ranks 45th out of 50 states in the whole U.S.," says State Representative-elect Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin). "I think it’s unfair for state to be rating our individual schools when we all know the school finance system is broken.”

State lawmakers approved the new system in 2015, and it will go in effect next school year. The TEA will release the report publicly on Friday morning.  

You can read the TEA's report in its entirety here

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