Why Does the A-F Campus Report Card Have Superintendents in Such a Tizzy?

The state's A-through-F campus report card, designed to grade every Texas school's performance, hasn't even been put on the road for a test drive. In fact, it's still under development.But that's not stopping critics, primarily superintendents, from doing their best to send the grading model careening into the ditch.What are district leaders and their supporters so afraid of?This new attempt to provide clarity in measuring and reporting individual school performance won approval from the Texas Legislature in 2015. Under HB 2804, lawmakers granted the Texas Education Agency plenty of time to fine-tune A-F and carefully communicate how it will work. Official ratings don't take effect until August 2018.Unfortunately, a contingent in Austin managed to insert a poison pill of sorts into the legislation, requiring TEA to provide a tentative mockup in January of what a campus-by-campus report card might look like. It's not much of an assumption to see this as an effort to kill A-F before it ever gets a fair chance.Education Commissioner Mike Morath and TEA are undeterred in their efforts to craft an understandable and useful grading system. But at the local level, too many superintendents are simply in a tizzy, already convinced that the new system will be unfair.Actually, that doesn't seem to be true, based on everything we've learned so far. As the accompanying box shows, the law assures that A-F not function as a blunt instrument.For example, the five categories making up each campus grade take into account not just how many students pass STAAR but drill into year-to-year growth and other nuanced measures. Progress toward achievement -- as well as actual achievement -- will be baked into the A-F calculation.In Dallas, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa has gone on the offensive against what he sees as a "scarlet-letter shame game." And DISD has released its own campus-by-campus report card, which most heavily weights year-to-year student improvement. It also factors in other indicators, from absenteeism to staff attitudes. (You can review the DISD grades -- which label each campus as excelling, rising, developinig or focus -- at dallasisd.org/spf.)The roots from which this DISD effort grew are valid: To help central office determine, campus by campus, how to grant greater autonomy, target resources and provide support.But an attempt to use these district-generated grades to deflect from any concerns generated by the state's A-F results would only create confusion and communication nightmares. Parents' worries are unlikely to be assuaged by knowing, for instance, that DISD gives their child's school a "rising" score if the state grade is a "D."And don't forget that part of the strategy behind the A-F system is to provide an apples-to-apples comparison with campuses in other districts.Too many lawmakers in Texas side with superintendents; after all, those are the voices they most often hear from. How about if the Legislature lets parents and other stakeholders kick the tires on this new grading model before prematurely taking it off the road?  Continue reading...

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