Texas gave its school districts their first official grades Wednesday, fueling the fire of a years-long political debate over whether an A-F rating system will help parents determine the best options for their children.
State officials argue that the new grading system for school districts is more transparent than ever, especially when compared to the outgoing pass/fail rating system. The Texas Education Agency also created a website that will eventually allow parents to look up their districts and schools and immediately see a letter grade as well as peruse the many data points and calculations behind it.
“There’s some level of understanding about what A-F means, and that’s part of the reason of what makes this easy for families,” said Penny Schwinn, TEA deputy commissioner, at a briefing for business and legislative officials Tuesday.
Former Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams, who had Texas rolling toward an A-F rating system in 2013, released a statement Tuesday saying the ratings would “kickstart the conversation around school quality.” Williams is now the board chairman of Texas Aspires, an advocacy group in favor of stricter accountability measures for students and schools.
School superintendents and educator advocates vehemently disagree. They argue state officials are stuffing numerous important metrics into a single, simplified letter grade, ultimately misleading parents about how a single school or district will serve their children. Since last year, more than 50 school districts are organizing to create their own “community-based accountability” systems, which include measures beyond state standardized test scores, such as parent survey results and the availability of student clubs.
Schools will not receive official grades until August 2019, a compromise lawmakers made last spring to appease critics of the new system. But the state Wednesday did release numeric scores for schools, which can be easily translated to grades.
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. This story has been edited for length.