Fort Worth ISD joined a lawsuit with a growing list of districts seeking to oppose the Texas Education Agency’s newly revised accountability score.
The school board voted 8-1 on Sept. 19 to join other districts in suing Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath over the accountability system. Fort Worth ISD is the second district in Tarrant County to join the lawsuit after Crowley ISD.
The lawsuit focuses on the Texas Education Agency’s decision to change the system’s metrics that districts say will harm their ratings. School districts cited TEA’s lack of transparency in notifying them how accountability ratings are calculated as central to their complaint.
This year marks the first time the education commissioner has substantially updated the ratings formula. The metrics revision started in October 2021, and TEA published the new calculations in January 2023.
Trustee Kevin Lynch was the only dissenter. He did not immediately respond to a Fort Worth Report request to comment. No trustee made a public comment at the meeting following the vote.
Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Angélica Ramsey said that the district believes in accountability, but it has to come through a transparent process.
Joining the lawsuit is a way for the board to tell its teachers and students that it will fight for transparency in the accountability ratings, Ramsey said.
During the public comment, Fort Worth resident Jennifer Nelson urged Fort Worth ISD to join the lawsuit to pause TEA’s action and allow for more informed decision-making. The new system may make schools look like they perform worse, she said.
“The results that previously would have given a school a B might now give them an F,” Nelson said.
Resident Joe Palmer said Fort Worth ISD joining the lawsuit will not increase the chance of prevailing. He said joining the lawsuit will only cost taxpayers more money, and the school district has not informed the public how much it will cost.
“You’re going to be paying the cost. We’re gonna be paying the cost. And the attorneys reap the benefits,” Palmer said.
The agency recently announced a delay in releasing A-F ratings for school districts and charters until sometime in October or November.
“We want to continuously improve, but we need to know what those goalposts are,” she said to the press Sept. 19. “It’s really, really difficult when the rules change after the games ended.”
Ahead of the release of ratings, some superintendents are preemptively blaming TEA’s revised formulas and cutoffs for anticipated letter grades for their district’s 2023 ratings.
However, lower ratings have been anticipated because academic growth between 2022 and 2023 would not be as great as what the state saw between 2021 and 2022 — the first year that districts saw the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on student outcomes.
Statewide, what do people say about the system change?
A survey conducted by Texas 2036, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, showed over 60% of people believe high schools should have at least 90% of their graduates ready for college or a career to receive an A.
The result shows that Texans want more rigor in the schools’ accountability system, said Mary Lynn Pruneda, senior policy adviser for education issues at Texas 2036.
High schools that want to receive an A in the college, career and military readiness score need to have at least 88% of their graduates pass an Advanced Placement exam, earn an industry-based certification or take a dual credit course. Previously, it was 60%.
Texas schools’ statewide average is 65%, a number survey respondents believe should not be considered as an A, Pruneda said.
“If you’re attending an A-rated school or buying a home in an A-rated district, or an A-rated campus, you think you’re getting what the score tells you, and there’s this big gap right now in the way that A through F (system) is set up,“ Pruneda said.
Pruneda said she understands why complaints and difficulties arise whenever a system update happens, but the positive story is that Texans, superintendents and people involved in public schools across the state care about their performance in the systems and how students can be supported.
“And very clearly, Texans are really interested in setting a high bar,” Pruneda said.
Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. 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.