In what will be the last year the state uses its current academic rating system, education officials announced that close to 94% of school districts and 84% of public schools across Texas met minimum education standards. The system is set to be replaced next year with letter grades between A and F.
Accountability ratings in the state were changed by the Texas Education Agency in order to ensure the number of failing "improvement required" ratings drop. This means that the 94% of school districts and 84% of public schools have met basic state requirements every year for the last four years.
Despite this, Education Commissioner Mike Morath continues to argue that only around one-third of high school graduates in the state are actually ready for college or to start a career.
"It's just like children's soccer nowadays, where everyone gets a trophy," Bill Hammond, a former state lawmaker who now heads the Texas Association of Business lobbying group, said of Monday's ratings. "It doesn't tell the public anything because there's no differentiation between the various schools."
Texas State Teachers Association spokesman Clay Robison has suggested that a large portion of the schools and districts marked as failing have higher numbers of minority students or those still learning to speak English. He went on to say that he expects the problem to grow with the introduction of the new system. "They call it differentiation. I call it stigma," Robison said.
Almost 65% of the 5.2 million public school children in the state are black or Hispanic, with close to 60% of students coming from low-income households.
In all, 55 school districts and charters, 4.5%, were included in the "improvement required" or failing rating last year. That percentage has increased this year to reach 5.5%, for a total of 66 districts and charters. Of those, 44 are traditional school districts while 22 are charter schools.
Meanwhile, the number of individual schools labeled as failing has dropped, going from 603 last year to 467 in 2016.
Accountability ratings in the state are currently mostly dependent on student performance on the controversial STAAR exams required by the state. School officials had pushed Morath to not rate schools on this year's scores, arguing that the testing was fraught with a number of logistical and technical problems as exam administration was placed under a new testing vendor. One instance saw a computer glitch cause more than 14,000 students to lose their answers.
While Morath chose to not include the exams affected by testing issues in the ratings, he stated that the testing issues were not widespread enough to not make use of the accountability system at all. However, he also chose to drop requirements this year that would hold back fifth and eighth grade students who did not pass the exam, reports Kiah Collier for WFAA.
Beginning next year, a new accountability system will be implemented throughout the state that will assign school districts and individual campuses a letter grade between A and F that will be based on academic performance. Officials hope the new system will decrease the need to look to test scores for ratings by focusing on additional factors such as attendance and graduation rates.