By Courtney Borchert, NDG Special Contributor
Texas public school districts are in the process of interpreting state and federal requirements regarding school assessment, accountability and the impact that these measures will have on those that they serve. The preliminary stages of this plan were set into motion by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) enacted in 2015, but that foundation has been shifting in the Texas legislature in order to accommodate ongoing feedback.
Texas has experimented with an unofficial public school accountability system that ranks district and campus performance using A–F rating labels. The work-in-progress model has been used as a pilot evaluation tool to gauge a district’s competence in postsecondary readiness, closing achievement gaps and student performance and progress on statewide standardized tests.
Opposition emerged after initial district grades were posted, citing a lack of fairness and accuracy. According to committee reports, it was evident that Texas schools cannot be accurately depicted by a single letter grade alone. The amendments to House Bill 22 compromise by giving grades to each evaluated domain, but still include a summative rating score determined by the Texas Commissioner of Education.
Local education agencies that receive Title I funding will juggle annual improvement plans while adjusting to the new accountability system that will go into effect August 2018. The upcoming school year will now include a district equity plan as a part of an ESSA requirement. Districts must strategize how they will address achievement gaps and teacher equity amongst low-income and minority students.
“If you look at some of the schools where there are predominantly African-American children, we’re struggling with equity,” Dallas Independent School District Trustee Joyce Foreman said.
Foreman believes we are headed in the right direction when it comes to meeting students’ needs. She is excited to address the equity piece holistically and wants to also include the equity of resources in the classroom, like technology and facilities, into the conversation.
Taylor Hill, a teacher at Albert Sidney Johnston in east Oak Cliff, views teacher equity and test scores as a few pieces of a large puzzle. Hill’s concerns with accountability stem from the emphasis on standardized testing, where in the new system performance on statewide tests can influence up to 50 percent of the student achievement domain rating.
“I don’t think it’s realistic if you’re teaching fifth grade and one of your students is reading on a second grade level,” Hill said. “You have to work miracles to bring a kid up a year in their reading comprehension, and the schools want to push for more than that,” Hill said.
Some of Hill’s students are bouncing back and forth between family member’s homes or are experiencing other factors that may place students educationally at-risk, which she says affects their ability to learn and concentrate.
“They have all of this going on in their lives and then when they come to school we have to slam them with information, for things they’re not ready for because you know that there’s a test that measures your school’s accountability,” Hill said.