After a heated late-night debate, a controversial plan to start assigning public schools A-through-F grades cleared the Texas House on Thursday.
The measure passed as part of a bill making larger changes to the state's accountability system that reduce the role student assessments play in measuring public school performance. It would replace the state's current system of rating schools as "met standard" or "needs improvement" to A-through-F grades.
Both Democrats and Republicans rose to oppose the change on the House floor. State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said moving to the letter grades would be a "horrendous mistake."
"That places more of a stigma on kids who are trying to rise above their circumstances," he said.
In a particularly fiery speech, state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, urged his colleagues to "stand up for sanity in schools" and vote for his amendment to strip the A-F ratings from the bill.
"You think just because you rate someone A through F they are going to do a better job? No," Phillips said. "We need to support our schools, we need to support our teachers, we need to support our students."
In the end, lawmakers approved the bill on a on a 98-44 vote. The state Senate has already passed a version of the new rating system.
House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock said he knew many school districts opposed the change but told House members, "We've got to call them something."
Though the letter grades were not part of the original bill, the Killeen Republican folded language from Senate Bill 6, high-priority legislation from Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, into House Bill 2804, which makes larger changes to the way the state evaluates schools.
Under the new bill, student performance on state standardized exams would remain the primary measure of school performance. But it would no longer be as dominant a factor in determining a school's accountability rating. About 45 percent of the rating would take into account a variety of additional information — such as community engagement, AP course enrollment, attendance and dropout rates.