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Texas Judge Temporarily Blocks Release of “Unlawful” School Accountability Ratings

A Travis County judge temporarily blocked the Texas Education Agency from releasing this year’s annual school ratings after finding that the state’s new rating system — which was to debut this fall — is unlawful and would harm districts across the state.

The ruling issued Thursday evening comes after dozens of school districts across the state sued the TEA to delay the ratings, claiming the state’s new school evaluation methodology would result in unfair drops in their ratings. The agency had already postponed a planned September release of the ratings until sometime before the end of the year because it needed more time to adjust scores under the new system.

The agency said it plans to appeal the decision by Judge Catherine Mauzy, who set a trial date for Feb. 12.

“This ruling completely disregards the laws of this state and, for the foreseeable future, prevents any A-F performance information from being issued to help millions of parents and educators improve the lives of our students,” the agency said in a statement.

Currently, districts and their campuses are assigned an A to F grade based on students’ performance on the state’s standardized test, academic growth year-to-year, graduation rates and how well schools prepare students for careers after high school. Parents and community members use the scores to see how their schools and districts are performing.

Even before the lawsuit, the accountability system had been criticized for its inequitable approach. Many of the schools that receive D’s or F’s serve low-income communities where schools have fewer resources and where area families face a lack of housing and food, challenges that are often detrimental to a child’s academic achievement.

Superintendents across the state have protested one change in particular. Previously, under the evaluation’s college and career readiness portion, high schools would earn an A if 60% of seniors either enrolled in college, pursued a non-college career, or entered the military. The revamped rating system, announced in January, awards A grades to high schools only if 88% of seniors meet one of those criteria. This change would have used 2022 high school graduate outcomes for this year’s ratings.

Many school leaders said such a big change to that benchmark would result in massive ratings drops in individual high schools and overall school district ratings.

“We look forward to future conversations with Commissioner [Mike] Morath about how to implement the assessment and accountability system in a manner that is fair and transparent for all school districts in the state of Texas,” said Cissy Reynolds-Perez, superintendent of the Kingsville school district in South Texas, one of the districts that sued the TEA.

“Accountability is an important orienting aspect for a school district. However, the arbitrary application of new measures without the required advanced notice will potentially give the appearance that schools across the state, including Frisco ISD, are declining,” Frisco school district Superintendent Mike Waldrip said in a statement. “Moving the goalposts arbitrarily is unfair to our students and teachers.”

Jonathan Feinstein, director of The Education Trust in Texas, said the A-F system was launched in 2017, and the 2018-19 school year is the only normal evaluation period because of delays and adjustments to scores because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This decision leaves local school system leaders, community members, and families without one of their only tools for understanding school performance and advocating for essential programs and resources specifically designed to lift up their most underserved students,” Feinstein said.

Source : TheTexasTribune