Education Commissioner Mike Morath talks about the state of public education to the Dallas Regional Chamber at Hilton Anatole in Dallas on Sept. 27, 2017. The Texas Education Agency released statewide accountability ratings to the public on Thursday.

For the second year, school districts across Texas received an A-F rating from the Texas Education Agency.

The system is meant to be an easily digested summary of district performance, but it received significant pushback from educators before the first set of ratings was released in 2018.

In fact, three local school districts — Argyle, Aubrey and Denton — passed resolutions in opposition to the system in the 2016-17 school year. According to the Texas Association of School Administrators, 566 districts passed similar resolutions.

“We don’t think A-F rating has any bearing on individual student learning and individual student growth,” said Jamie Wilson, Denton ISD superintendent.

Accountability ratings

School districts and campuses across the state were given a letter grade and score for the 2018-19 school year based on a statewide formula by the Texas Education Agency. Scores from the student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps were used to determine an overview score for each district.

ISD Student achievement School progess Closing the gaps 2018-19 overview score 2017-18 overview score
Argyle A (94) B (83) A (98) A (95) A (95)
Aubrey A (91) B (86) B (89) A (90) B (87)
Denton B (89) B (88) B (89) B (89) B (87)
Krum B (89) C (79) B (87) B (88) C (79)
Lake Dallas B (89) B (89) B (86) B (88) B (86)
Pilot Point B (89) B (89) B (82) B (87) C (79)
Ponder B (88) B (83) B (82) B (86) B (88)
Sanger B (86) B (80) B (83) B (85) C (79)

Broadly speaking, the system combines three metrics — student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps — to achieve a single letter grade. For the first time, TEA also released letter grades for each public or charter school campus.

Most districts in the area saw a slight improvement in scores compared to the 2017-18 school year. Denton ISD was less than one point shy of making the coveted “A” ranking. Krum and Lake Dallas ISDs were approximately two points from the same benchmark.

Based upon the state ratings, Krum ISD saw the largest local improvement with nine points. Superintendent Cody Carroll said, despite the validation, a “B” ranking doesn’t accurately capture his district.

“What I tell my staff is that we’re not going to be defined by one letter grade based predominately on test scores from one day,” Carroll said. “But being that it is the system that the state rates us by, we do have to make sure that we do understand what goes into that and prepare accordingly.”

While one Krum ISD campus, Dyer Elementary, was ranked as an “F,” Carroll said TEA unfairly categorized the school. According to the accountability portal, the school served only second and third graders last year, so only third graders’ test scores were factored in.

Dyer Elementary now also has fourth and fifth grades this year.

While high schools factor in standardized test scores and graduation rates, as well as college, career and military readiness, middle and elementary schools only factor standardized test scores into their letter grades.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, has itself come under fire recently. Research from Texas A&M University-Commerce professors Susan Szabo and Becky Barton Sinclair published this year showed that STAAR reading tests were both inconsistent in their difficulty and often above grade level.

Using eight readability formulas, the pair found reading passages in the exam to frequently be more difficult than they should be for students in third through seventh grade.

Wilson said mobility and socioeconomic factors are overlooked in the A-F system, but they’re also two factors that most affect student learning. For example, Denton ISD schools in the Braswell High School attendance zone are populated largely by students who have just moved to the district or state.

“When we look at the campus levels, that’s where we see where we have the most work to do because we haven’t had those students very long,” Wilson said.

Additionally, district campuses with the lowest percentage of economically disadvantaged students are often the highest-performing.

Argyle ISD, with a score of 95 out of 100, has had the highest rating in the area for the past two years. Deana Steeber, assistant superintendent, said the rating comes as appreciated validation, but she agreed with other administrators by saying a letter grade doesn’t do the district justice.

MARSHALL REID can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @MarshallKReid.

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