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Texas' most populous districts see As through Ds in new ratings

The 10 most populous districts in the state received more Ds than As in the new A-F rating system, according to a preliminary report out to educators Friday. By comparison, the 10 biggest charters saw more As and a smattering of Fs.

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Districts and schools in Texas were welcomed back to school this January with a report card from the Texas Education Agency — and many saw a wide range of letters.

For the first time, the agency assigned public schools and districts preliminary letter grades in four categories, and those grades were officially released Friday. The state's 10 most-populous districts received a range of letter grades in the categories, from A to D, with the Ds much more prevalent than the As.

Education leaders have been vocally resistant to the new grade system, arguing it is too dependent on state test performance and does not provide a comprehensive view of student achievement.

Lawmakers approved House Bill 2804 in the 2015 legislative session, changing the accountability system to one that assigns schools and districts grades A through F. The previous system rated schools as simply “met standard” or “improvement required.”

Districts and schools on Friday received grades for each of four categories: student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps and college or career readiness. These grades show what they would have scored had the rating already been in place, but are not yet official.

The overall letter grades will not come out until August 2018 – but by then, the models for calculating them might be completely different, according to state Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

“The ratings in this report are for informational purposes to meet a legislative requirement and represent work-in-progress models that are likely to change before A–F ratings become effective in August 2018,” he said in a release. “No inferences about official district or campus performance in the 2015–16 school year should be drawn from these ratings, and these ratings should not be considered predictors of future district or campus performance ratings.”

In the next year, districts will also choose a fifth category related to community and student engagement to include in the overall calculation of the grade.

Many districts have approved resolutions asking legislators to repeal the A-F grading system and replace it with one that does not include letter grades or ratings based on state testing performance.

The 10 most-populous districts, which all met standards in 2016, received a wide range of grades in the four categories from A through D.

Most, besides Dallas ISD, received Cs or Ds in the college and career readiness category. That category is based on the chronic absenteeism rate in elementary and middle schools, as well as the dropout rate and graduation rate in middle and high schools. In high schools, it also includes the percentage of graduates who have completed AP courses, the SAT or ACT test, 12 or more hours of college credit, or technical courses.

The 10 districts received four A grades between them for any of the four categories. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD received an A in student progress, which shows whether students’ STAAR state test scores have improved over time.

Katy ISD received an A for both student progress and student achievement, meaning its students are doing well on the STAAR test. Fort Bend ISD also received an A for STAAR student progress.

Critics have argued the STAAR test should not be a large part of the new accountability system, especially after a computer glitch wiped out answers on thousands of tests last March. Morath has said the problems with STAAR only affected a small number of students, and that the test should be used to determine school and district grades.

The 10 largest charters, which all met standards in 2016, also varied widely in their grades. They received three F grades between them in any of the four categories. Texas College Preparatory Academies got two of those Fs, for failure to close the achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students, and for poor college and career readiness. Jubilee Academic Center received three Ds and an F for failing college and career readiness.

IDEA Public Schools performed the best of all the charters, scoring three As and a B in student achievement on the STAAR test.

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