School districts face new accountability system for 2013

Michael Williams

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced Wednesday, April 24, that the agency will be transitioning the way it rates school district accountability. According to Williams’ statement, the new 2013 state accountability system for school districts, campuses and charters in Texas will be based on four components, giving parents and taxpayers a more comprehensive overview of school district accountability. The first ratings under this system will be issued by the Texas Education Agency on Aug. 8. 

The new rating system will replace that of the “Exemplary,” “Recommended,” etc. rankings of years past. According to TEA spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson, 2011 was the last year to utilize the “Exemplary” method of rating, with districts holding that rating able to claim it for 2012, also.

“I have heard the criticism of the previous accountability system, with its overemphasis on a school’s lowest performing areas and its blind spot to what a district or charter might be doing well,” Williams said. “The new system makes use of multiple indicators to provide parents and taxpayers a more detailed overview of the successes, as well as areas of necessary improvement, for each school district, charter and campus.”

The revised system will still use student assessments, he said, but also make use of a performance index framework that considers four areas — student achievement of performance across all subjects; student progress to show improvements made independent of overall achievement levels; closing performance gaps emphasizing advanced academic achievement of the economically disadvantaged student group and the lowest performing race/ethnicity student groups at each campus or district; and postsecondary readiness to include measures of high school completion, and beginning in 2014, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) performance at the postsecondary readiness standard.

Districts and campuses with students in grade 9 or above must meet targets on all four indexes, TEA reports indicate. Districts and campuses with students in grade 8 or lower must meet targets on the first three indexes.

Districts, campuses and charters will receive one of three ratings: Met Standard, Met Alternative Standard, or Improvement Required. For eligible campuses that achieve the rating of Met Standard, distinction designations will also be assigned for outstanding academic achievement in reading/English language arts and mathematics. These distinction designations will be based on campus performance in relation to a comparison group of campuses.

“It’s important to note that while the new system bases accountability on an index framework, the state will emphasize the importance of closing achievement gaps and addressing the needs of all students in Texas,” Williams said. “Those districts and campuses that are leaders in improving achievement for all its students will be easily identified under this system.”

According to Williams, because all aspects of the performance index framework cannot be fully implemented at this time, 2013 will be considered a transition year. Accountability advisory groups will reconvene later this year to finalize recommendations for accountability ratings criteria for 2014 and beyond. In addition, work will continue on the conversion of this new system into an A-F rating system for 2014.

Williams acknowledged various aspects of the state accountability system are currently being discussed by the Texas Legislature. Any changes in bills passed during the legislative session can and will be incorporated into the system.

Spokesperson Culbertson said that although 2013 is indeed a transition year, it doesn’t mean the Aug. 8 scores won’t count.

“Transition doesn’t mean that this won’t count. It will count,” she said. “We will look at if they’re meeting the accountability targets or not and those assessments will be valid.”

According to Culbertson, the agency is using the term “transition” only to note that the rating process is in a state of reform, and that the system is still being perfected.

“Everything is moving to the A-F rating system, but there’s a process,” she said. “There’s still some things that have to be developed. And, of course, whatever happens in the Texas Legislature will need to be added as well.”