After a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Education Agency is releasing accountability ratings on Aug. 15 to grade school systems on performance.

Texas uses this system because the state believes in measuring performance and publicly reporting it, Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a call with reporters.

“It starts with a value, a value system, a belief in our children — that they can achieve extraordinary things, that they rise to the level of rigor, the level of content that we can teach them that they are extraordinarily talented and incredibly capable little bundles of energy and that expectations matter,” Morath said.

But how can parents view these ratings and know what they mean for their child’s school? Here is a breakdown of accountability ratings and how they impact your school.

What are accountability ratings?

The ratings are about performance management and being clear with parents, teachers, administrators, board members and taxpayers how well adults met obligations to students, Morath said.

“It’s hard to improve what you can’t see,” Morath said. TEA uses A-F to show how the schools met performance measures.

This year, schools will not receive D or F. Instead they will receive a “not rated” grade instead.

The agency knows through studies that students do better academically when the school is subject to public performance measures, Morath said.

There will be adjustments because of the pandemic this year, though. Campuses will get A-C ratings like usual, but typically D or F ratings require intervention, Morath said. This year, campuses that are “not rated” don’t formally require intervention to ensure the system has some time to recover.

What is measured?

There are three components measured in the rating system: achievement, growth and closing the gap. 

For about 40% of the achievement domain, the state evaluates testing scores from the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness. For high schools, it also looks at college or career readiness, military enlistment and graduation rates. 

In middle and elementary school, Morath said TEA looks at performance on the STAAR test.

For growth, the agency looks at longitudinal academic growth and relative performance, he said. A student who scored at “approaches grade level” one year and improves to “meets grade level” the next display’s more than a year’s growth in a year’s time.

A child who stays at “approaches grade level” from one grade to the next is still getting a year of growth, but Morath said the goal is to reach more students with more growth.

Looking at school progress and closing the gaps is a more holistic look at students.

TEA analyzes students with a breakdown of race or ethnicity or special education, English learners and income and evaluates and sets goals, Morath said. It then looks at how well schools are closing those gaps to make sure every child is well served.

Each campus gets a rating for each of those domains. To calculate campus and district grades, TEA takes the best of achievement and growth for 70% of the grade and 30% is from closing the gap domain.

What does this mean for parents?

Ratings can help parents have clear measures to advocate for their school and to help decide which campus to send their children to, Morath said.

If a parent of a 4-year-old is trying to pick a kindergarten, Morath said the state wants parents to have clear, transparent information about how the schools are performing to make informed decisions.

As a parent himself, Morath said the ratings give parents data to discuss with principals, Parent Teacher Association meetings and other school meetings.

“Now as a dad, I’m actually much more interested in my specific kid’s experience than I am the overall school experience, but I want to make sure that the school is generally strong,” he said. “So I’m going to use my own kid’s, say, STAAR scores, as well as my own kid’s report cards and that sort of thing to make sure I’m advocating for my kid as a dad, but I also want to know how well the school was doing and I want to get a sense from the principal and others at the campuses how they’re planning on on having an even stronger approach next year.”

What about the pandemic?

When looking at the ratings, Morath said TEA is mindful of the pandemic. 

Evaluating an individual student’s growth will look at their performance in the 2021-22 school year compared to 2020-21. 

But with scores released, Morath said TEA looked at growth from the 2018-19 school year to the 2021-22 school year. 

When comparing those years, Morath said there have been remarkable gains that are a testament to educators in the state. There are more high-performing campuses this year compared to 2019 and fewer low-performing schools.

Morath also said high-poverty schools have campuses that are demonstrating high levels of growth and achievement.

“The idea that this is just some sort of rating of poverty is false,” he said. “This is a reflection of the hard work of educators. This is a reflection of how well we are teaching our kids and how well they’re mastering reading, writing, math, science and social studies and learning valuable career skills and graduating from our schools.”

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. 

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...