Today is Monday, February 20, 2017. There are, as of last count, 523 Texas Public School Districts that have passed a resolution calling for the removal of the A-F campus and district accountability rating system set to go live in 2018. Locally elected school board members representing 2.8 million school children in Texas approved the resolutions. This is not a random incident where a certain school district or region is upset with their scores. The call to end this before it starts is state wide and born of the realization that we are going backwards in the effort to hold school district educators and students accountable for the improvement of the learning process at the LOCAL LEVEL.
I am not writing to rehash this argument. The data and the will of the people in a representative form of government have made their wishes very clearly heard. I am interested in giving you my opinion of what would be a better way to achieve the goal of providing a quality, relevant and challenging this century learning experience for the students of the state of Texas.
I look at this as a three-piece issue. First, how can the state hold pubic schools accountable for teaching the state mandated curriculum, following the requirements of the Texas Education Code and meeting the needs of all students? Second, How do you identify and intervene with school district and/or campuses that do not meet the state standards as defined in the current Met Standard/Improvement Required model? Third, how does the state differentiate between the schools that Met Standard? (There seems to be a need to rank schools as to which one is “best” in the area. Educators refer to that as a Real Estate Rating.) I believe that we can define a process that meets these requirements that is not punitive and set to create a negative perception of schools that should not be labeled as “failing” schools.
Let’s take a look at accountability for meeting the expectation of the state in curriculum and the education code. I maintain that the current system is the best method for measuring compliance. Make no mistake this is a compliance issue. As a district or campus, you are either doing this as required by the state or you are not. This is not the area to determine who is better at following the rules. Leave the system in place that is here now and we can have further discussions about the frequency of student assessment, who/what should be tested and how that weighs in compared to other variables in the district. The current system represents the best role for the state to take in the process of monitoring Locally Controlled, Locally Governed Independent School Districts in the state of Texas.
What happens when a school district is determined to be an Improvement Required School District? This is the point where the door opens wide for the state to come in and monitor, review and even oversee efforts to bring the district above the mark that is determined to meet the needs of their students. This too, is a system that is in place and, for the most part, functions well for school improvement. There can and should be some adjustment in this process. One of the most important would be a level of consistency from the state in the setting of expectations for achieving a Met Standard rating. Many times legislation is passed and the requirements are retroactive. This penalizes schools for not meeting a requirement that was not in place at the time being accessed. For example, setting a requirement for graduation plans during the 2013 Legislative Session and holding schools accountable to that standard for the graduates of 2012. (Actually happened) We can help districts that are struggling and if improvement is not realized over a period of time, there will need to be a method of direct/disruptive intervention that can be applied.
The third piece of this issue is where local community leaders/educators and legislators are at the greatest impasse. The desire (need) of the legislator to rate districts and pit them against each other is not beneficial to the learning process for students. It’s a great tool for a real estate agent that wants to sell more properties in a certain location based on the location of the “best schools”. There are two solutions to this issue in my opinion.
- Let the local school district determine the criteria to be used to set their district apart. The community and student engagement reports will allow locally elected officials to hold district educators accountable for those priority items that best meet the needs of the local students. This tool is in place and being used by every school district in the state as mandated by House Bill 5 and Texas Education Code 39.0545. Details about this tools and examples of White Oak ISD’s documents can be found at this link: http://www.woisd.net/curriculum-federal-programs/ It is a true step towards returning the control of district to the locally elected officials tasked with that responsibility. This is a living document that sets the direction and priorities for the district and holds school leaders accountable to the local community through a rubric of well defined, measurable goals that align with state standards.
- The state can continue to award/assign measures of distinction for the performance of districts as reported through the Public Information Management System (PEIMS) data including state mandated assessments. School districts can determine how much emphasis they want to place on the state distinctions as compared to the locally developed priorities.
This two-piece process is the “new” idea in this thought process. It allows local leaders to be more involved and more accountable for the decisions being made in the educational future of the students in their local schools. Combined with the Met Standard/Improvement Required Accountability that is currently in place, it allows local district to pursue excellence in a manner most beneficial to them without being released from a strong level of accountability to the state to meet all legal obligations as a Texas Public School District.
This represents an idea that allows the state to be actively involved in the learning process for Texas Public School Children without heavy-handed oversight that does not give consideration to the whole picture of a quality learning experience for students. It is a proposal that requires the use of the existing assessment process and adding a detailed, measurable local assessment instrument to allow for locally developed priorities to be included. There will be no mixing of these systems. They will build on each other. The State assessment is the foundation of what is required. The Community and Student Engagement Ratings will be the measure of excellence pursued at the local level. The state’s input by measures of distinction can be weighted in a manner best determined by the local district.
The purpose of this document is to answer the question of, “If you are against A-F, what do you support in its place?” I propose this is a better system that gives both the state and the local school district a strong level of responsibility for the successful learning experience for our Texas Public School Students. The biggest obstacle to the success of this or any collaborative plan between community members, educators (also included as community members) and legislators is the lack of trust that exists between local communities and their legislators in Austin. The idea that we don’t have a plan, that we are simply opposed to accountability and assessment is completely false and unwarranted. Educators, like myself, have been and are dedicated to the success of our students. It is a difficult job. It is an endless and relentless process to pursue excellence in education. It is made much more difficult when the very people put in place to support your efforts seem to do everything they can to paint your students, schools and colleagues as failures. Our profession is stronger, more skilled and more focused on student success that at any time in my 36 years in this business. I do not see our students as failures and I do not fear the future of this state with the students of the Texas Public Schools at the controls. I do ask that you consider this draft of a new accountability system and look for ways to work together with local school district leaders to continue to provide for a bright future in the sate of Texas.