Wednesday, May 27, 2015

So an A-F campus rating system passes … what next?

With less than one week to go in the 84th legislative session, it appears likely that HB2804, Chairman Aycock’s effort to reduce the impact and importance of standardized tests, will become law, pending signature by the Governor.  While not what trustees and administrators were hoping, the Chairman’s efforts on this bill at least bring about some element of balance to a flawed system.  What I disagreed with most in this debate was the Chairman’s comment that, “We have to call them something”.  Yes, we do have to call them something but assigning a letter grade doesn’t tell the entire story.

In fairness to Chairman Aycock, he has been an ardent supporter of public education over several sessions.  His leadership on the passage of HB 5 in the 83rd Session set a tone across the State to focus more on career and technology and community engagement; that legislation has clearly impacted schools in a very positive manner.  And his sponsoring of HB 1759, an effort to move toward adequate funding of public education, was certainly noteworthy compared to the final funding that was approved.

Looking at HB 2804 a bit further, only 55% of the campus grade will be derived directly from STAAR and EOC test results.  The remaining 45% will be derived using other criteria.  As a plug for the efforts of Dax Gonzalez and TASB Governmental Relations, the following comes directly from Dax’s update on May 25.

“The first domain (55%) would be solely based on the test, while the second and third domains would be based on student growth and closing gaps between student groups. The fourth domain would consist of non-test measures, such as certifications students earn, military enlistment, advanced placement courses taken, and other items listed in the bill. The fifth domain would measure parent and student engagement.”  (source: Dax Gonzalez, TASB GR, May 25, 2015)

So where is the good news in this?  Quite simply, it’s the reduced impact of standardized testing.  And while I (and others) still argue that assigning a specific grade rating at a campus level creates a potential stigma for lower performing campuses (see my prior blog on HB 2804), the discussion regarding ratings at least got the dialog going and acknowledged the need to look at more than test scores.  And that can be a good thing!

Now that trustees and administrators know the ground rules (of course, pending finalizing of the legislation and signature by the governor), they can at least focus on how to manage those elements that impact the rating.  But rather than get caught up in the rhetoric about what a particular rating means, and thereby increasing the stigma of a low rating, they can focus on how to address the shortcomings that ultimately drive the campus grade. 

It’s easy to lay blame; the challenge now is to take steps to address the root cause and to find ways to improve across all five domains over time.  The students of these campuses are entitled to such an effort on the part of trustees and administrators (and parents!) alike.

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