Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
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."
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.