A letter from the Superintendent on A-F Ratings

August 3, 2018

Dear Northside Parents and Patrons,

This month, the Texas Education Agency, based on legislation from the 2017 session, will award every school district in Texas a grade of A, B, C, D, or F based primarily on students’ performance on the state’s STAAR test. Letter grades will be given to every campus starting in August of 2019. The primary arguments supporting the use of A-F ratings are that it simplifies the explanation of school and district quality while at the same time helps improve student performance. I want to bring to your attention some concerns regarding this method of rating schools and the arguments used to support it.

First, the notion that A-F ratings provide simplicity in understanding school and district quality is misguided. The rules behind A-F appear simple on the surface but with just a little analysis yield neither simplicity nor transparency. In fact, it takes over 100 pages in the state’s Accountability Manual to explain the new system and how letter grades will be calculated. 

The reduction of a school or district to a single grade misrepresents a large proportion of what happens in schools. It has the predictable effect of telling a school with a good grade that all is well and telling a school with a bad grade that all must change, even though neither can ever be accurate. A-F ratings will create confusion among educators and fail to offer the public useful or accurate information about their schools.  The methodology is anything but simple. Furthermore, the calculations required to produce one grade can yield vastly different results in schools that perform similar statistically while assigning the same grade ratings to schools that are significantly different.

With regard to student performance, no rigorous research exists that shows that any rating system, by itself, improves performance.  In fact, the significant growth in student performance touted in Florida, the first state to implement an A-F system can be credited to adjustments in state policy and rules to make the results better match public expectations. 

A letter grade will convey no information about where or how a school needs to improve. As in any organization that has hundreds, if not thousands, of clients and stakeholders, there is always room for improvement. In Northside, we embrace this idea and constantly talk about how we can get better. Continuous improvement is our mantra.

The A-F accountability system, just like the one we have now, will continue to be based primarily on once per year state testing. Statewide surveys and the Northside ISD parents and teachers I speak with generally believe we should give standardized, state-developed testing less influence in schools. This rating system will not support that goal.

Furthermore, the letter grades will very likely align with a community’s relative level of wealth. As we have seen in other states, grades of ‘D’ or ‘F’ are highly correlated with schools that serve large numbers of economically disadvantaged students. In this way, the A-F system will create a false impression about an entire neighborhood of children and shame students and the school community. We should not have a state accountability system that punishes schools and school children for the economic situation that exists in families. 

In Northside, the members of our Board and thousands of teachers and other staff work hard each day to provide a caring and rigorous environment that promotes the highest quality of teaching and learning. We strive to offer a wide variety of programming and a focus on student success that prepares them for great things after they graduate from high school. We want to be accountable to our parents and our patrons. However, we don’t support a system of school ratings that is meaningless both to you as well as to our staff who are working toward continuous improvement. We are hopeful that the Legislature will see this rating system for the bad policy that it is and make a significant change. Please make your voice heard on this issue by contacting your state legislators. Thank you for your support of Northside students, teachers and staff.