Dripping Springs ISD: Don’t grade schools based on STAAR

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Monday night, the Dripping Springs ISD school board voted in a resolution against the new state accountability system, which would give specific schools a grade A through F. The system will go into place next school year as part of House Bill 2804, which passed in 2015.

Supporters say it will give parents more information about how well schools perform but DSISD says the system would be unreliable because a large portion of the grade will be based on students’ scores on the STAAR exam. DSISD could be one of the first school districts to come out against “A through F” and call for “community-based accountability.” The state has been weaning itself off relying on STAAR tests to measure accountability after backlash from administrators and parents.

“We’re not fighting A through F because we aren’t going to be successful in A through F,” said Dr. Bruce Gearing, superintendent at Dripping Springs ISD. “We’re fighting A through F because we believe it’s not the right system to drive public schools in the state of Texas.” Gearing said under the law written now, his schools would mostly get As.

The resolution is in response to a letter the Texas Association of School Administrators sent out last week calling school districts to action. The last time TASA called for resolutions against high-stakes accountability tests, a representative for the organization says more than 900 school districts came on board. They’re hoping for the same reaction this time around.

In the TASA mailer, they say a community based system would be a four part system composed of performance reviews by visiting teams, reporting to parents and communities, classroom-centered evidence of progress, and some standardized testing.

Dr. Gearing wants to move to community based accountability in his district. “As much local control as possible. Every school district in the state is unique,” he said.

“It’s common language that people are used to in education, A through F,” said Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who voted for the law in 2015. “But this emphasis on standardized testing is way too high.”

Then, a year of controversy happened with the STAAR test.

“Grades were just thrown out. There’s still students who don’t know how they did on that test. There are eight graders who still don’t know how they did because tests were lost,” said Rep. Isaac. He plans to file a number of bills to wean the state of its reliance on STAAR test accountability – including moving the A through F indicator to 25 percent of the grade.

The recent controversy over STAAR tests has led the Texas Education Agency to take an in-depth look at the issue. When asked for a response to the move, they didn’t come out and say “no.”

“Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and the Texas Education Agency continue work on an A through F accountability system as required by legislation passed into law by the 84th Texas Legislature. The goal is provide parents accurate information regarding campus and district performance. The new system is still in development. TEA is seeking feedback and input from all interested stakeholders over the course of the next several months. By law, implementation of an A through F system would not take place until the 2017-18 school year,” wrote Lauren Callahan, Information Specialist for TEA.

Both state and local business groups say the STAAR and standardized tests are the best way to judge a student’s progress year to year and before graduation. Without it, many say Texas students will not be career or college ready.

Lawmakers go into session in January and can begin changing the A through F system if the votes are there.

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