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Schools study sample grades

Profile image for By Caitlyn Jones
By Caitlyn Jones

Districts get some poor marks in state’s preliminary A-F ratings

The Texas Education Agency released preliminary data Friday that showed how school districts would fare under a future accountability system that grades them from A to F.

Although Denton County districts met the state’s official pass-or-fail standards this year, a few area schools saw some poor “what-if” grades under the new system. The new system is expected to take effect in August 2018.

Local officials caution parents against putting too much stock in the new grades because they rely heavily on standardized test scores.

“My biggest fear with any A-F system is that it reverts to teaching to the test,” Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson said. “That is not what we want. That’s not what our parents want and that’s not what our community wants.”

State officials also point out that the scores aren’t official yet and are calling the system a “work in progress.”

“No inferences about official district or campus performance in the 2015-16 school year should be drawn from these ratings, and these ratings should not be considered predictors of future district or campus performance ratings,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath wrote in a statement.

Like the current rating system, the new system grades schools on four performance factors: student achievement; student progress; closing the gaps between low- and high-performing students; and “postsecondary readiness,” or readiness for college, the military or life outside outside of high school. By the time the system goes into effect, schools will be rated on a fifth factor as well, community and student engagement. Schools also will receive an overall letter grade.

Ponder ISD seemed to have the best average score out of the area schools, receiving two B’s and two A’s. Superintendent Bruce Yeager said although he wished those B’s were A’s, the grades were only a snapshot of what education should be.

“Our goal is to have a personal connection with every student in our school,” he said. “We want our teachers to know our students and know their needs. We feel like we can be accountable on a personal level to the community.”

Argyle ISD, a high-performing district in the area, received an F for closing gaps, which measures the divide between low-performing and high-performing students in the district. Superintendent Telena Wright said she had some questions about the data because Argyle High School didn’t receive a score for that portion, which brought down the district grade.

“Some districts are missing scores because their percentage of economically disadvantaged students is so low,” she said. “Our scores are very convoluted.”

Students who are considered economically disadvantaged often do worse in school than their financially stable counterparts. The number of students who fall under the disadvantaged category in Argyle sits at 10.1 percent, the lowest percentage of area schools.

Denton ISD received B’s in the student achievement and progress domains, but racked up a D in closing gaps and a C in postsecondary readiness.

Denton officials said they had issues with data reporting, too. For example, state officials listed Denton’s middle school dropouts rate as 6 percent, even though the district reported a rate of 0.6 percent.

Legislators decided to change the rating system during the 2015 legislative session with the expectation of holding schools more accountable and giving parents a better idea of what success looks like on their child’s campus. Critics of the system say it is unfair to low-income schools and could result in a lack of high-quality teachers at those campuses.

At a recent school board meeting, trustee Charles Stafford, who also serves as president of the Texas Association of School Boards, spelled the system out a different way.

“‘A’ stands for affluent and ‘F’ stands for free and reduced lunch,” Stafford said.

Other states have tried to implement similar systems, school officials said. Those systems yielded unsatisfactory results that, in turn, led to an increased push for school-choice voucher programs.

“It’s a means to an end,” said Mike Mattingly, Denton’s assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, and staff development.