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A-F overhaul, postponement may be on the way

The Texas House Public Education Committee on Tuesday advanced House Bill 22, which would scale back the state’s A-F rating system for school districts and campuses, to the full House.

Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) filed HB 22 to, among other things, reduce the number of A-F domains from five to three, eliminating the ones that grade postsecondary readiness and performance gap reduction but still grading on Student Achievement, Student Progress and School Climate. Huberty's HB 22 would also push back the implementation of the system to 2019, rather than September 1, 2017, and would allow for two grades to be published in advance, similar to the provisional scores released earlier this year.

Changes reflected in the substitute bill include: clarification that indicators must be based on disaggregated data to report on subgroups; a requirement that the accountability system take into account the differences in size, socioeconomic level, etc. by creating comparability groups; authority given to the commissioner to adjust ratings in certain circumstances, but upward only; expansion of a student survey to a climate survey of a broader range of stakeholders. This one-page document was shared to provide more information on the included indicators.

Community Impact Austin outlined additional changes that would be implemented if Huberty’s HB 22 is adopted, including:

  • Domains would focus less on standardized testing.

  • The Student Achievement domain would be limited to only incorporating standardized tests as 50 percent of its overall score.

  • Indicators within each domain will be geared toward different factors for students in high school versus students in middle and elementary schools.I

  • In the previous system, the TEA would intervene in schools awarded a cumulative D or F score. In the new system, the TEA would only get involved with schools awarded F grades.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath testified on the bill on March 21. Morath said he’s had more than 75 meetings on the topic of A-F in the past year. He explained that under the A-F rating system as it is, each school and district will receive six A-F grades – one for each of the five domains and an additional summative grade, which he equated to a high school GPA. HB 22 would change this so only three grades would be given – one for each domain, of which there would be three under HB 22. Morath also explained that an F grade would be “unacceptable” under HB 22 while a D would mean “needs improvement.

Summative grades in themselves raised some debate from that point forward with some for and others against the overall scores. Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) suggested we “give summative A-F grades time to work before we throw them out.” Morath said that, with or without the summative grades, there’s a fundamental difference between what parents and schools want to know from the state accountability system: Parents want to see what their children know, while “school folks” want to see how effective their schools are.

Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) asked Morath if he, personally, thinks HB 22 improves the A-F rating system. Morath replied that HB 22 “does improve the situation,” but we are left with a lot of “technical questions.” Morath urged a “very close reading of the bill” and asked the committee to be “sensitive to all of the little details” related to the technical questions that have yet to be addressed.

Further testimony last month came from superintendents and other education leaders from across the state. Every superintendent who testified was in support of HB 22 despite their unified opposition to the A-F system.

Some suggestions and concerns were mentioned, including:

  • HB 22 should size, location, poverty level and available resources when scoring rural districts

  • HB 22 should revisit the chronic illness absentee indicator

  • HB 22 should flexibility for students with learning differences

  • HB 22 should incorporate weights into the accountability system to recognize that some students are harder to educate than others

  • Accountability system should keep the Met Standard/Improvement Required language until August 2018

  • Stakeholder group panel, including teachers, requested to give input on HB 22 implementation

  • Concern over commissioner arbitrarily modifying ratings

  • Concern over a concrete date for commissioner to adopt performance indicators

  • Concern over technical language relating to the basic allotment and transportation allotment

Regarding the concern over the Texas Education Agency commissioner arbitrarily modifying ratings, HB 22 includes language that would allow the commissioner to change any one domain’s A-F rating at his or her discretion by one letter grade.

The consensus is that schools remain unhappy with an A-F system, but they believe HB 22 is a step in a better direction.

Those who testified were especially pleased with the delayed rollout under HB 22, which committee members also expressed agreement with. “We need that runway to get this right,” Meyer said, advocating for the lag time to allow for additional kinks to be worked out ahead of the official A-F launch.

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