If we ever wondered about the power of advocacy, legislation introduced by the chairmen of both the Senate and the House should reinforce the need to continue to push for sound legislative policy relating to public education. Last week, Senate Education Committee chairman Larry Taylor and House Public Education Committee chairman Dan Huberty introduced bills targeting the A-F grading system scheduled to be put in place in the 2018-2019 school year. And while it is obviously too early to know what impact either will have, the fact that this topic is on the table speaks volumes for advocacy efforts.
At the heart of both bills seems to be an effort to reduce the number of categories for which schools and districts are to be graded. While simplification itself is not a single most important criteria, the fact that legislators are gaining a better understanding of the complexity of the legislation as originally proposed when adopted in the 84th session is encouraging. For me personally, I had an opportunity last month to sit in on a session hosted by TEA Commissioner Morath in which he presented implementation plans. I walked away a bit confused by what eh presented. He, too, seemed to be struggling with certain elements of the proposed grading system and noted that his staff is working to address some of the issues,
In the case of Senate Bill 2051 and House Bill 22, the number of categories would be reduced from five to three, specifically student achievement, school progress and school climate. It appears that the significant reliance on the STAAR test, while still important, would now expand to include a number of other factors, including recognition of the number of students enrolled in AP courses. Those who have criticized the significant reliance on STAAR results have consistently stressed that classroom learning and student outcomes should be the focal point. Legislators in both parties seem to be grasping the importance of this perspective.
As currently defined, too much responsibility falls to the commissioner. While uncertain how he will implement a grading system, the greater the clarity in defining what is to be included, the better off we all are. Focusing on a clear definition will be an important part of the discussion. The bills of each chairman differ in this area but offer hope that there will be a compromise that is palatable to most.
Will the system be perfect? Certainly not but the ongoing discussion about a way of evaluating school and district performance seems to reflect a willingness of those in Austin to listen to the concerns of educators and other public education advocates. Our work is not done. We have an opportunity to continue to influence legislation on multiple fronts and must continue our efforts to ensure that those elected to serve us understand the imperative to make education a priority. Advocacy does work!