Under New State Ratings, Most Schools Met Standards

The vast majority of the state's public schools met the standards set by new state accountability ratings debuted by the Texas Education Agency on Thursday. 

Under the new system, districts and campuses are placed in two categories, "met standard" or "needs improvement." They are judged on how well they do across four areas: student achievement; student progress; closing performance gaps between low-achieving demographics; and post-secondary readiness.

The state agency announced Thursday that almost 93 percent of Texas school districts and charters achieved the first designation. When broken down by campuses, about 91 percent did.

Set into motion during the 2009 legislative session, the new ratings are a transition from a previous system in which schools were assigned one of four labels — unacceptable, acceptable, recognized and exemplary — based on measures including the district's performance on standardized tests, dropout rates and financial health. Critics of that approach said it was difficult for the public to assign meaning to the labels, and that the metrics behind it could arbitrarily penalize schools that were otherwise doing well if they slipped in a single area.

Now, though grouped into two broader categories, schools that are found to have “met standard” can also earn distinctions for high performance in specific fields or for demonstrating significant academic progress. Those schools can also be flagged by a number of "system safeguards" for low achievement across a number of indicators, such as a certain subpopulation of students struggling in a particular area.

Though schools' performance will still mostly be based on standardized test scores and graduation rates, TEA Commissioner Michael Williams told reporters on Tuesday, it will evolve to emcompass a wider balance of factors like the number of students completing career certifications and advanced courses. Starting with the 2016 school year, the state will also begin rating school districts — not individual campuses — on an A through F basis.

Williams disagreed with the suggestion that the new accountability system may be too complicated for parents to understand. He said it was more comprehensive, not more complex. 

"The underpinnings? I don't know if parents care," he said. "They want to know, what's the bottom line, what's the bottom line for the school that my youngster goes to in my school district."

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