Northeast Texas Education Officials Reject State's A-F Ranking Plan
A new plan by the state's education agency to rank every school in the state on an A-F grading scale is infuriating teachers and administrators in northeast Texas.
They say the plan, which debuted at the end of last year, is biased against school districts in poor and rural areas with less sources of funding.
"We know that educational achievement runs along socioeconomic lines," says Martin Beaty, superintendent of the Bonham Independent School District.
"We’re being compared to other districts that receive much more funding than we do. So, we’re playing a game in which we have a higher at-risk population but yet we receive less funding to do exactly what the other districts are attempting to do -- with a much less diverse population than ours.
"Seven out of 10 of my students is on free or reduced lunch. I would venture to guess that that number doesn’t equate to Allen, Highland Park, Lake Travis, or any other district where they are a higher-income clientele. It’s not logical."
The Texas State Legislature approved the plan in 2015. It is set to go into effect in 2018, but the Texas Education Agency released a "what-if" report showing how each school would have ranked.
Education officials throughout the state accuse elected officials of timing the release of the rankings ahead of the 2017 legislative session to discredit public schools and promote vouchers.
In Austin on Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told the Texas Tribune website that he wanted the legislature to move forward on school choice this session. He did not mention specific plans.
But Patrick did say that the A-F ranking system was here to stay.
"Our A-through-F system is not going away. So, I can save the education community money for paying their lobbyists," he said.
"If we can grade our students, and their futures are impacted by that, our schools should be under those same grades.”
Patrick has called for prioritizing the issue of school choice during the 2017 session. He campaigned heavily on vouchers during the 2013 election.
Althea Dixon, head of curriculum, planning and accountability for the Paris Independent School District, said the rankings could harm communities.
“It not only mislabels our education system,” Dixon said.
“This puts a black eye on the economy in that area, where people might not want to do business because people don’t want to bring their kids to a school that’s been labeled — mislabeled — an F or a D school.”
She added: “It has more ramifications than just us being upset for receiving a C.”
Dixon said the rankings plan was replacing a method of evaluation that was generally fair to poor and rural districts like the Paris ISD.
“They’d compare you to 40 other schools that were just like you,” she said.
“So, you are being evaluated on how well you did compared to not Highland Park but to people like Paris ISD. This current system does not do that.”
'Make Up Their Minds'
In Bonham, the high-performing Finley Oates elementary school received an overall C under the new ranking.
Only three months earlier, it received a top distinction from the state for meeting standards in every category it was eligible.
“Based upon those distinctions our campus did very well,” said principal Mary Lou Fox. “Out of 8,600 campuses in the state, only 400 received this honor. Less than 5 percent.”
However the state’s new ranking would have downgraded the school based in part on the same data. The ranks are heavily weighted by attendance and testing.
“Based upon the same data, from the A-F grading system, it does not look like we did near as well ... We received two Bs and two Cs.”
Fox said teachers and parents were left disheartened and confused.
“I’d like them to make up their minds how they’re going to grade us," she said.
"We have two different types of accountability. Make up your mind how we’re going to be graded, and have us go with that."