By now, many of our constituents have been able to review the work-in-progress report from the TEA outlining a preliminary approach to giving an A through F rating for schools and districts. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath has downplayed the significance of this report stating “no inferences about official district or campus performance in the 2015-2016 school year should be drawn from these ratings.” The fact that the press acquired the report and presented it as front page news before districts even had it tells you something different.
Now much is being made of some of the shortcomings of the way the grades are calculated. Certainly, the student achievement and progress grades have a strong correlation with a school’s level of poverty. As the Dallas Morning News reported: “Texas is grading schools, and A = Affluent.”
The Domain Four—Postsecondary Readiness—is the one score where that is not true, but this category has its own set of flaws. Elementary schools are judged in this Domain by the percent of students that miss 10% of the days enrolled—no matter what the reason (this includes those who arrive at school after the morning attendance count). A review of “A” high schools in Domain Four offers perhaps a more troubling element of this report. Generally two types of schools make up this group. One is Early College or academy schools that select academically advanced students while reporting virtually no scores for students with disabilities. The second are small, often K-12 schools that have elective choices limited such to require students to take career and technical courses that meet this Postsecondary Readiness calculation. As I shared with the media, the result is that large comprehensive high schools, even those with tremendous track records of preparing students for college and career, are locked out of the “A” category. Telling a community that their high schools are not high quality because they serve all children and offer a robust curriculum fails every major rationale for an accountability system.
While all of this might give us pause as to how well this was thought out, my experience in Florida tells me that the most problematic aspects of A-F accountability are yet to come. The only student outcomes measured for elementary and middle schools are STAAR tests. Grades in these schools will rise and fall with student performance on these state-administered, standardized tests. We better be really sure in Texas that the results from these tests represent excellence in education because a lot of other things people have valued will begin to be reduced or eliminated to focus time, resources and practices on passing the STAAR test.
In Plano, we do not believe that these test results can be the only measure of our schools. We want so much more for our students. I have already cautioned our principals that in the future, schools will increasingly be faced with the choice between doing what they believe to be right from a program and methodology standpoint or doing what they believe will increase STAAR scores for a better grade. We will do what we believe to be right for children.
I want to make clear that I am not saying that we don’t believe that we should be accountable to our community for delivering educational programs and practices that help make a positive difference in the lives of the students we serve. In fact, our fundamental belief is that you deserve to know that your school district is measuring itself in a far more comprehensive way than by examining one standardized test.
Accordingly I would like to direct you to the link below that will take you to a comprehensive set of measures that connect to the Operational Expectations we place on ourselves. Not surprisingly, we do measure our student STAAR results and actually place targets for our student performance that exceed those placed on us by the state. We also measure the types of attendance and graduation rate found in the state system as well as student success in AP, IB, SAT, ACT, Dual enrollment and advanced CTE courses (high targets here too).
If we want more for our students, however, we should measure more. Accordingly, we also capture student participation and/or achievement in fine arts programs, science and engineering research, curriculum-related competitions, service learning and co-curricular, extra-curricular and/or school-based groups.
We are also committed to getting feedback from internal stakeholders regarding their experiences in our schools. Through inclusive surveys, we ask our students about their perception of their coursework in meeting important 21st century learning expectations (analyze a variety of information sources and evaluate credibility, solve complex problems, take risks and grow from mistakes, learn beyond school and contribute to my own digital footprint, etc.) We ask them if they felt they had opportunity to engage in important service-learning opportunities and collaborate with peers in meaningful ways. Parents are asked similar questions related to their children’s experiences in school. Teachers are asked if they feel they have the materials and training to be successful and if they have opportunities to engage in situational leadership.
Students and parents are asked about students’ feeling of being safe in school, including experience with bullying. Teachers are asked about their feelings of safety and their assessment of the thoroughness of our various safety plans. Additionally, we measure our response time to safety-related work orders and have a target number of employees in each school with critical safety-related certifications and/or training.
We have an equally comprehensive number of performance and survey question measures that relate to our four Operational Expectations connected to the efficient and effective use of resources. To view the performance measures for each of our eight Operational Expectations please see the link below.
Policymakers seek overly simple measures to answer an incredibly complex question—what is the quality of our schools? At best these policies are insufficient to answer the question and at worst, actually detract from the very quality they purport to measure. Our commitment to you is that we will maintain programs, practices and measures of success that support our commitment to help all students pursue excellence in wherever their interests and their passions take them.
View more information about the Plano ISD outcome measures.
Dr. Brian T. Binggeli
Superintendent of Schools