Nine out of 10 Texas school districts meet state accountability standards, according to ratings released by the Texas Education Agency on Friday.
“Texans should be pleased to see the vast majority of districts, charters and campuses are meeting the standards set in the second year of the state accountability system,” Education Commissioner Michael Williams said in a statement. “While the 2014 numbers are positive, the work continues in districts across our state to meet and exceed increasing state standards and the expectations of their local communities.”
The percentage of individual schools meeting the standards is lower — 82 — an indication that many of the state's low-performing schools are clustered within the same districts. The 2014 ratings also show a slight decline from last year. While the vast majority of districts still avoided the "needs improvement" label this year, the percentage that did not is slightly higher than last year — when only 7 percent earned the latter designation.
This is the second year of a new state accountability system that uses two categories: "met standard" or "needs improvement." School districts 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. Though they are 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 for low achievement across a number of indicators, such as a certain subpopulation of students struggling in a particular area.
Based on measures including the district's performance on standardized tests, dropout rates and financial health, the new ratings are a transition from a previous system in which schools were assigned one of four labels — unacceptable, acceptable, recognized and exemplary. The state moved away from that approach because of complaints that 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.
But the new system has also attracted criticism. The overly broad categories present a misleading look at the overall state of public education in Texas, said Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond.
"This kind of reporting enforces mediocrity of work and does not drive what needs to be done in our public schools," said Hammond, whose organization is active in education policy at the Legislature. "This is like five year old soccer where everyone gets a trophy."
Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.