Bexar Education Leaders Split on New State Grades for Districts, Schools

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SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez speaks about SAISD's 2018 accountability ratings.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez speaks about SAISD's 2018 accountability ratings.

For months leading up to the release of accountability ratings for all of Texas’ school districts and campuses, education leaders cautioned constituents that simplifying a school’s quality to a single letter grade could be detrimental.

Some have called the system an oversimplification of a complex grading rubric and characterized it as relying too heavily on STAAR results.

On Wednesday morning, the Texas Education Agency released its scores, ranking 38 Bexar County public school district campuses and nine charter campuses as “improvement required.” This score signifies a failure on a pass-fail rubric still used for individual campuses. Districts were also assigned letter grades, and in San Antonio, three districts received an A, three a B, seven a C, and two a D.

Northside ISD, which was graded a B and had two campuses rated as “improvement required,” issued a statement critical of the new system.

“This oversimplified accountability system ignores the many other ways schools add value,” spokesman Barry Perez wrote in an email to the Rivard Report. “Every school, regardless of their assigned ‘grades,’ is doing some things well and has areas for improvement.”

Perez said NISD believes the system punishes schools and neighborhoods that educate larger numbers of economically disadvantaged students.

Of the two schools in NISD that were given an “improvement required” rating, one –Martin Elementary – serves a population of more than 91 percent economically disadvantaged students. The other, the Holmgreen Center, educates a population that largely receives special education services.

San Antonio ISD, a district that serves a population that is 91 percent economically disadvantaged, doesn’t give much credence to the poverty prejudice argument. SAISD scored a C rating and had 16 campuses ranked as “improvement required,” the most campuses in a single district throughout the state.

At a briefing Wednesday afternoon, Superintendent Pedro Martinez lauded the accountability system, saying he thinks it is “the best thing that could ever happen to [the San Antonio] community.”

Martinez singled out one of the categories in particular as being advantageous to high-poverty districts – the part of the grading system that measures student progress that compares districts and schools to peers with similar percentages of economically disadvantaged students.

“This system holds us all accountable so the only school[s] it is aggravating for” are those that “are afraid of accountability,” he said.

Edgewood and South San Antonio ISDs received the two lowest grades among Bexar County school districts. Both districts scored a D, which the TEA says indicates a need for improved performance.

South San ISD Chief Academic Officer Delinda Castro said district officials are disappointed, but not entirely surprised by the rating. In the past three years, South San has had no “improvement required” schools, but the district anticipated two elementary campuses would show lower performance in this year’s accountability ratings. As a result, the district replaced the leadership at the two elementary campuses – Kindred and Carrillo – before the start of the coming school year to promote future growth.

“It really comes down to … the lack of instructional leadership,” Castro said. “Principals set the tone, they set the expectation for high-quality instruction everyday, no excuses. It ultimately lies on that – you absolutely need a strong leader.”

Accountability scores also rated Dwight, Zamora, and Shepard middle schools as improvement required. This surprised South San officials a little more, Castro said. She pointed to a July 20 rule change from the TEA mandating that any campus or district that receives an F-equivalent score – lower than a 60 – in three of the four scoring categories automatically receives an F overall.

So, even though the three middle schools could have secured a higher grade in one of the four categories, they automatically received an “improvement required.”

This rule change, which was finalized less than one month before the new grades were released, frustrated the district.

“I believe the accountability system is important especially when you are serving kids of poverty because if you don’t have it, it is easy for them to get lost,” Castro said. “The only thing I would suggest is put the rules out to us in August and stick to those rules the entire year. Because if I know the rules of the game, I can have that expectation for teachers, students, for parents. … That rule that changed July 20 … if we would have known then maybe we would have done something differently.”

The Edgewood Independent School District board of managers named Eduardo Hernandez, the chief academic officer from Duncanville ISD, as the new superintendent.

Courtesy / Eduardo Hernandez

Edgewood Superintendent Eduardo Hernandez.

Edgewood Superintendent Eduardo Hernandez told the Rivard Report that he understands what the scores signify, but takes issue with the overall scoring system.

“You just have to look at things for what they are. We have some work that we need to do, but I think I knew that coming in,” said Hernandez, who has been in his role for six weeks. “The other side of that is that we are more than a test … our testing system measures student ability one day of the year versus all of the other days of the year.”

The Edgewood leader said he believes the accountability system is complex, and the public can’t comprehend exactly what it means just by looking at the letter. He also said he finds solace in the fact that fellow superintendents at high-performing districts have issues with the system.

School districts may appeal scores for individual campuses and the overall district in the coming months.

4 thoughts on “Bexar Education Leaders Split on New State Grades for Districts, Schools

  1. The State of Texas shouldn’t be judging the schools, they should be funding the schools and not trying to figure out how to invest the 30 billion dollars in the rainy day fund into an investment opportunity…the investment opportunity is the children of the state!

  2. The state of Texas has the world’s worst public schools,…..because they do not fund public education. NOW,….CUBA has some of the BEST public schools in the world…..bar none. Their literacy rate is 99.8%,…..while the same rate in the US is SO LOW that you will not find it published anywhere.

  3. If you take Delinda Castro’s position, ““It really comes down to … the lack of instructional leadership,” Castro said. “Principals set the tone, they set the expectation for high-quality instruction everyday, no excuses. It ultimately lies on that – you absolutely need a strong leader,” then Pedro Martinez and the “improvement required” principals should all be fired. Also, when South San’s two expected “improvement required” campuses are rated, Delinda should be fired as the district’s academic officer. Better yet, make Delinda the principal at one of those campuses.

  4. Thank you for your article, Ms Donaldson.

    First, allow me to say that I helped build the bandwagon on which assessments ride. I am an early advocate of assessing student academic performance. As educators, it is only logical that we establish what students should know and be able to do, and then simply assess whether we have succeeded helping them obtain that knowledge and those skills. Academic standards and their accompanying assessments arrested the widespread curricular inconsistency that preceded them.

    I think it is important to ask whom and what the assessment is testing. Consider that a student body is not static. If we were to assess the same students’ skills, knowledge, and abilities each year with the exact same assessment-measure and their performance did not improve, then we would have real reason to worry. As currently designed, students are tested on new material each year of a given assessment. Is it logical to expect complete mastery in 180-days?

    Continuing with the question of whom the assessment is testing, South San Chief Academic Officer Castro said “It really comes down to . . . the lack of instructional leadership.” She said “Principals . . . set the expectation for high-quality instruction everyday [sic] . . .” I read those books and heard those lectures too and am reminded of the earlier movement for merit pay. Ethically, if you are a classroom teacher, would you do a lesser job because merit pay were not available to you? Then, would you not also find Ms Castro’s suggestion that you need a principal to expect high-quality instruction from you to be an affront to your professionalism?

    Still continuing with the question of whom and what the assessment is testing, given today’s certification requirements, would not current classroom teachers be the most qualified there have ever been? And to bear the rigorous, perhaps excessive certification requirements currently demanded to enter and remain in the profession, would not today’s teachers also be the most dedicated teachers there have ever been? Hence, given the former, would you conclude the assessment is testing them?

    According to the article, some said the system relies too heavily on STAAR results. Any decision-maker of basic knowledge of assessments knows that critical decisions should not be made based upon—as Superintendent Hernandez of EISD said—“one day of the year versus all . . . the other days of the year.”

    According to the article, Superintendent Martinez of SAISD lauded the accountability system, stating he thinks it is “the best thing that could ever happen to [the San Antonio] community.” His thinking is apt when the results are used diagnostically in root cause analyses to identify where necessary changes must be made.

    Superintendent Martinez also noted “ . . . the grading system . . . measures student progress that compares districts and schools to peers with similar percentages of economically disadvantaged students.” Thus one must disagree with NISD Spokesman Perez who said “the system punishes schools and neighborhoods that educate larger numbers of economically disadvantaged students.” Although we know statistically, that the strongest predictor of student academic performance is his or her socio-economic status, Texas’s new system controls for socio-economic status by comparing apples to apples.

    In sum, it is only logical that we establish what students should know and be able to do and then assess whether we succeeded; it is important to consider whom and what the assessment is testing; teachers likely do not need a principal to expect high-quality instruction from them as they are the most qualified and dedicated there have ever been; critical decisions should not be made based upon one day of the year; use assessment results diagnostically to identify where necessary changes must be made; Texas’s new system compares apples to apples.

    Thank you again for your article, Ms Donaldson.

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