A Texas school accountability system unveiled this week would take into account how well educators are addressing closing income and racial student achievement gaps. Although the system stops short of issuing actual letter grades for schools – deferring that change for at least another year – the new system is the fulfillment of a promise by the Education Commissioner Michael Williams to find a way to hold publicly funded schools accountable for how well they do by their minority and low-income students.
The first set of rating reports for the districts and the schools around the state will be issued in early August. The new system will replace the one currently in place which relies entirely on student performance on state-mandated standardized tests.
The new system calls for rating schools and districts on overall student performance on standardized tests, student progress as they work their way through school, and their college-readiness upon graduation — with the latter only applying to high schools.
But Williams has focused on the student achievement gap proponent, saying that given that Texas public school students are now “60 percent economically disadvantaged and 60 percent black or brown,” the state’s accountability ratings can no longer afford to ignore large and growing achievement gaps.
In a statement, Williams explained that the new focus on achievement gaps will benefit schools that have made strides in closing those gaps. In particular, it will relieve the pressure on charter schools that enroll a high number of minority and low income students who might show improvement year-to-year but still not perform well enough on standardized tests in a way that might drag down the schools’ final ratings.
According to Williams, the new system will also give Texas residents a fuller view of performance of their local school districts and will allow them to better judge how well the schools are serving their most underprivileged students.
Still, the new rating system continues to heavily rely on student performance on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR exam, a standardized test which has triggered a firestorm of controversy since it first was administered last school year. The student performance criteria is based on STAAR results, while academic progress examines how test scores improve across different subject over time. Even the progress of minority and low-income students is judged by comparing those students’ test scores to the scores of their peers.