TEA Proceeds With A-F School Ratings Plan

The Texas Education Agency will continue with the implementation of public school accountability ratings using A through F grades in 2014 despite mounting criticism from school leaders and some lawmakers.

On Tuesday, when the agency announced an interim pass-fail system to go into effect this year, Commissioner Michael Williams said in a statement that agency would continue the shift to the report card-like approach.

The decision will not be final until this fall, TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe wrote in an email, adding that the commissioner is "well aware of ongoing debates in the Legislature about the A-F rating system."

Williams has long expressed his support of the A-through-F ratings, whose advocates include business-oriented education reform groups that argue their transparency helps engage parents and communities with their schools by making their performance easier to understand and allow for a deeper review of a school's achievement.

"It's a system that we all grew up with. We all got grades A, B, C, D, F in school, and the public will understand, too," Williams said this month at a Senate Education Committee hearing, when he announced the agency's intention to formally adopt the ratings in 2014 during the rollout of the state's new accountability system.

But the plan has been met with skepticism from some lawmakers, including several on the Senate education panel who questioned whether using such simplistic labels unnecessarily stigmatized schools. Then, after Williams' announcement, members of the agency's advisory panels set up to develop new accountability policies revealed that the A-through-F labels were not based on their recommendations. 

"In our opinion that wasn't the best way to create a label to the accountability system to communicate to our community about how our schools were doing," said H.D. Chambers, the superintendent of the Alief Independent School District, who sat on one of those panels. He said there was "pretty unanimous opposition" to the A-through-F plan among the committee's 30 members over significant concerns about whether it could promote inaccurate assumptions about school performance.

The agency received a strongly negative response to the idea of providing accountability ratings with the grades A through F, including that such a system would be "degrading" and an "anachronism" when it submitted the proposed changes for public comment.

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