You may have read or heard about the new state accountability system for public education, based on a new letter grade (A – F) rating scale. I’m writing to you to provide a few of my thoughts about the new system, as well as comment on YES Prep’s performance.
Context – Why did the Texas Education Agency (TEA) make this change?
The old state accountability system evaluated schools with a binary framework: public schools either “Met Standard” or they were designated as “Improvement Required.” These designations were based on student performance on STAAR exams. Under this system, the vast majority (~90%) of all public schools “Met Standard.” Many argued that this system masked the true performance variability of schools, making it difficult for parents and community members to understand how students were really performing. The new system will move towards an A – F letter grading system. The A – F rating scale provides parents with a simpler, more accessible framework for understanding performance of their children’s schools. This proposed new system will give schools a letter grade for each of four categories: Student Performance, Academic Growth, Closing the Achievement Gap, and College Preparedness. The four grades will then roll up into an overall grade of A – F for each school. On Friday, in anticipation of finalizing its A – F school district rating system for the 2017-18 school year, TEA released a provisional report showing how each Texas district currently rates under the new standards. These preliminary ratings are based on 2015-2016 STAAR results. While Commissioner of Education Mike Morath advises us these are not official or predictive ratings, we nonetheless appreciate TEA’s preview of the new rating system.
Thoughts on the new system
The calculation methodologies behind each grade are extremely complex, and we are still digesting all the specific information contained in the report we received. At the big picture level, I believe that YES Prep must stand firmly behind a rigorous system of accountability at the state level. This system undoubtedly does raise the bar of expectations for students, and it also reveals what YES Prep has always believed – that far too many public schools are failing to provide students, especially low-income students of color, with a rigorous, college preparatory education. We are especially pleased at TEA’s recognition that College Readiness and Closing the Achievement Gap are the ultimate measures of success. On this front, we support the new system. I also believe that YES Prep must endorse a tool that helps parents more easily understand the quality of schools. One significant advantage of the A – F system is its simplicity, and we support this broad direction. Therefore, while we may take issue with some of the specific ways that the ratings are calculated, we are cautiously optimistic about the overall direction that Education Commission Mike Morath is leading with the new A – F rating scale.
How did YES Prep perform?
In this early assessment, YES Prep Public Schools well outperformed the state average in Closing the Achievement Gap and College Readiness with As in both of those categories. By comparison, most schools across the state earned Cs or lower for Closing the Achievement Gap (67%) and for College Readiness (66%). At the same time, we recognize YES Prep Public Schools’ C rating for Academic Achievement and D rating for Progress, though in line with the state averages, highlight important areas for improvement.
Since last year, we have worked hard to improve the middle school experience with interventions, including new technology systems like Schoolzilla to closely track students’ academic progress. With ready access to timely student data, our teachers can tailor instructional adjustments to the needs of individual students. For example, at last Friday’s system wide Data Dive Day, teachers were given their students’ results on the December district assessments as well as those of their overall campus and the entire system so that they could appropriately plan instruction and remediation for the new semester.
In short, with our students entering with significant academic and behavioral needs, our absolute performance in middle school continues to be a challenge. That said, our “A” grade in the ultimate measure – college readiness – continues to show that we are achieving positive outcomes by the time students leave us.
Though we always have room for improvement, I am incredibly proud of the hard work of our students and staff in our classrooms every day. Parents entrust us to prepare their children for the challenges and demands awaiting them in college, and we will continue to provide intensive support, proactively monitor students’ outcomes, and partner with peer organizations and the TEA to ensure the accountability system in place helps us quadruple the number of college-ready graduates by 2020.
Thank you as always for being a critically important part of our mission.