A controversial plan to start assigning public schools A-through-F grades cleared both chambers of the Texas Legislature on Sunday.
Approved as part of a bill making larger changes to the state's accountability system — including reducing the role student assessments play in measuring public school performance — the legislation would replace the state's current system of rating schools as "met standard" or "needs improvement." The A-through-F grades would start in the 2016 school year.
The approach’s supporters argue that it provides a simple and transparent way for parents and community members to understand the performance of their schools.
"This is an opportunity for some parents to have more information," said state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, when a similar piece of legislation passed the Senate in late March. "Once people have those facts before them, a low rating school cannot hide behind a rating system that is not clear."
When the measure originally passed the House, both Democrats and Republicans rose to oppose the change. 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-through-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."
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."
The legislation’s final approval on Sunday was uneventful — it swiftly passed the House with little discussion. It passed the Senate Saturday evening.
Under the 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.