On August 15, 2018 per state legislation under House Bill 22, the Texas Education Agency (“TEA”) released its first set of letter grades for all public school districts and charter networks in the state of Texas. Per the legislation, each district’s underlying campuses will not receive letter grades until the summer following the 2018-19 school year; however, TEA has provided accountability scores for each campus on a 0-99% scale which can be viewed as a current proxy corresponding to a letter grade (i.e. 90% or greater = A, 80% to 89% = B, etc.).
In reviewing these accountability metrics, it is important to note two things:
1. Texas’s public school districts and public charter networks together collectively educate over 5.3 million students across grades PreK through 12. Public schools (both traditional and charter) educate over 90% of the students within Texas, and the state’s total PK-12 population represents roughly 10% of the nation’s public school enrollment. What happens within public schools in Texas, and the progress its schools are making, remains critically important to the future of both our state and our country.
2. An A-F grading system, which has been adopted in 15 U.S. states, is not without controversy, and educational stakeholders have a variety of conflicting and often strong views on its efficacy, appropriateness and fairness. State legislation also provided for 20 public and charter schools statewide to take part in a pilot program to develop local accountability systems to provide more flexibility in the evaluation of their campuses – systems approved by TEA can be used for the upcoming 2018-19 school year (Dallas ISD, Sunnyvale ISD and Richland Collegiate High School are included in the pilot program). While the current system is in place, however, it is worthwhile to note what the data is indicating, and more importantly what practices appear to be leading to those outcomes.
State of Texas Accountability for 2017-18
The new grading system required by legislation that was passed in 2015 is in contrast to the prior TEA accountability system where districts and campuses either “Met Standard” (roughly 95%+ met this benchmark) or were deemed “Improvement Required”. The use of “distinctions” for districts and campuses were instead used in an attempt to publicly convey differences among the 95%+ of districts/campuses receiving the Met Standard rating.
A summary of the new district/charter network A-F grades issued by the state and the range of income demographics for each grade assigned can be found in the following Exhibit 1:
Points worth noting from state data include:
While higher scoring districts tended to be more affluent and larger than districts with lower scores, districts of every economic status and size scored A’s under the accountability system while a number of affluent districts were assigned C’s, D’s, and F’s. This was due in part to a significant part of state accountability rewarding year-over-year growth and/or performance relative to a district’s or campus’ demographic peers.
The highest poverty ISD’s in Texas that received an A grade included Valley View ISD (90% economically disadvantaged), Hidalgo ISD (89%), Roma ISD (86%), Edinburg ISD (86%), and Port Aransas ISD (80%). The highest poverty districts in North Texas to receive an A were Princeton ISD (58% economically disadvantaged) and Hurst Euless Bedford (53%).
Only 3% of districts, educating just 1% of the state’s students, received an F grade.
349 campuses, or 4% of all campuses statewide, received the state’s Improvement Required rating exclusive of campuses that received a Hurricane Harvey waiver from TEA. This percentage was roughly the same as the prior year and is notably down from 9% in 2014.
19% of all campuses statewide received 90 or more accountability points, which would be equivalent to an “A” grade. Over 225 campuses with 80% or more greater poverty across the state were in this category, including 50 in North Texas (defined as Dallas, Collin and Tarrant County). Of these 50 high poverty North Texas campuses receiving the equivalent of an A grade, 38 of them were in Dallas ISD, followed by Arlington (3), Grand Prairie (2), Carrollton-Farmers Branch (2), Ft. Worth (2) and Uplift (1).
The chart found in Exhibit 2 reflects the range of district accountability scores relative to district poverty, showing that in general as districts get poorer, the range of accountability scores widens while maximum and minimum scores indicate that every grade was received across all ranges of district poverty. And the chart found in Exhibit 3 reflects the distribution of campus accountability scores statewide.
Overview of Major Urban Districts in Texas
Of the six major urban districts in Texas (which collectively educate over 646,000 students, or 12% of the state), four districts (Austin, Dallas, El Paso and Houston ISD’s) received a “B” letter grade from the state while the remaining two (Fort Worth ISD and San Antonio ISD) received a “C”.
Per Exhibit 3, all six districts saw positive year-over-year growth, with Dallas ISD leading all major districts in growth for 2017-18, increasing by 9 percentile points vs. the prior year, followed closely by Fort Worth ISD at 8 percentile points and San Antonio at 6 percentile points. Austin ISD reflected the highest accountability rating at 89 percentile points.
In terms of the percent of a district’s campuses that received an accountability score of 90 points or above (equivalent to an A grade under A-F starting next year), 26% of Dallas ISD’s campuses attained that accountability score, followed closely by El Paso (24%) and Houston (21%) vs a state average of 19%. Dallas ISD’s 60 campuses receiving a score of 90 points or above represented the highest absolute number in the state, exceeding Houston ISD’s 57 campuses (despite the fact that Houston has a 27% higher enrollment).
With only 4 of its 231 campuses (2%) rated IR, Dallas ISD’s current IR percentage is half than that of Austin ISD (4%) and one quarter than that of Houston ISD (8%) despite having notably higher levels of economically disadvantaged and English learner students.
Highland Park ISD, Coppell ISD and Sunnyvale ISD’s all ranked in the top 3% of districts across the state, with all campuses scoring 90% or above. Plano ISD, another Commit partner in Collin County, also achieved an “A” district distinction.
Three other districts (Richardson, Carrollton Farmers Branch, and Uplift Education) all reflected high B’s, scoring just short of an “A” distinction, despite significant economic disadvantage roughly equaling or exceeding the average poverty for the state of 59%.
While Highland Park, Coppell and Sunnyvale maintained high levels of performance, 11 districts/networks reflected notable positive growth in their accountability points from TEA vs. the year prior, led by Irving ISD (up 10 points), Dallas, Duncanville and Carrollton Farmers Branch ISD (all up 9 points), and Grand Prairie ISD (up 8 points).
A comparison of the state’s major urban districts also reflects a wide variance (from less than 1% to as high as 17%) in the number of campuses receiving the state’s Improvement Required (“IR”) designation for school year 2017-18. Several points from Exhibits 4 and 5 on the following page are worth noting:
As reflected in Exhibit 5, since 2014 Dallas ISD has reduced its number of IR campuses by 91% (43 campuses to 4), reflecting the largest reduction of any major urban district, followed by significant reductions within Fort Worth ISD (54%) and Houston ISD (49%).
Strategic Teacher Staffing
One of the major drivers of IR campus reduction within both Dallas and Fort Worth ISD has been their decision to systemically and strategically staff their more effective educators at their most challenged campuses while concurrently lengthening the school day and adding additional resources. This program, known as “ACE “within Dallas ISD and “Leadership Academies” within Ft. Worth ISD, has resulted in 17 of 18 (94%) multi-year IR campuses across both districts going off the state’s Improved Required list, despite a collective economic disadvantaged and mobility rate for these campuses of 91% and 31%, respectively. 17 of these campuses went off the state’s Improvement Required list after the first year of implementation, and this year 12 of the campuses received an accountability score equivalent to either an “A” or a “B”. Two other districts (Richardson and Garland ISD) will be implementing ACE across 6 additional campuses in Fall 2018, and several other area districts have been awarded TEA planning grants to help implement ACE as early as Fall 2019.
Overview of Major Dallas County Districts/Public Charter Networks
Dallas County public school districts and charter networks educate over 500,000 students annually across grades PreK thru 12th, equaling roughly 10% of the state. The level of economic disadvantaged (72% vs. 59%) and English learners (31% vs. 19%) within Dallas County is significantly greater than the state overall, yet despite this fact the majority (10 out of 15) of Dallas County’s traditional districts and larger charter networks (i.e. those educating 5,000 students or more in the County) received a grade of “A” or “B” for the 2017-18 school year. Additional points worth noting include:
Total ISD or large charter network campuses rated “Improvement Required” in Dallas County declined again substantially in 2017-18, falling to just 20 campuses among the region’s larger districts/networks (down substantially from 65 campuses in 2014). Lancaster, Grand Prairie and Everman ISD’s held the distinction of being the only districts with greater than 75% economic disadvantage in Dallas, Tarrant and Collin County to have no IR campuses.
Effective Practices Leading to Outlier Results
Discussions with districts showing strong year-over-year growth in TEA accountability or robust multi-year growth on STAAR have reflected common themes that leadership teams cite as drivers of their improvement:
Carrollton Farmers Branch ISD (up 9 percentile points in TEA accountability over last year) – strong focus on (i) trauma informed campus leadership training to address issues of students coming to school exhibiting toxic stress; (ii) robust use of instructional data to personalize campus supports, particularly in area of small group instruction; (iii) use of in-district consulting function to provide continuous, real-time feedback to campuses via observations from instructional rounds with a focus on literacy and critical thinking.
Ft. Worth ISD (up 8 percentile points in TEA accountability over last year with 54% reduction in IR schools since 2014) – strong focus on key areas of (i) early literacy (3rd grade reading scores were up 8% vs. 2016-17 following the district’s launch of a city-wide collective impact effort known as “Read Ft. Worth”); (ii) middle school math; (iii) college and career readiness and (iv) the deployment of strategic staffing of their more effective teachers in their more challenged schools;
Irving ISD (up 10 percentile points in TEA accountability over last year with 21 percentile gain in Grades 3-8 math per STAR since 2012) – strong focus on (i) collaborative use of student performance data between the district and the schools through implementation of a Professional Learning Community process; (ii) clear set of district wide guiding principles that focus on setting clear goals, knowing students and their data coupled with strong implementation plans; (iii) continuous improvement process focused on continually ensuring that the right people, right processes and right programs are in place for students.
Grand Prairie ISD (up 8 percentile points in TEA accountability over last year) - strong focus on key areas of (i) early literacy (3rd grade reading scores gained 5 percentile points on the state in 2017-18) through rapid expansion of full day PreK enrollment; (ii) use of robust data provided by Education Resource Group to wisely direct additional resources/focus to students and targeted professional development to staff; and (iii) rapid expansion of open enrollment school choice in single gender, the arts, STEM, etc., increasing attendance and reducing student mobility within high poverty communities.
Dallas ISD (up 9 percentile points in TEA accountability with 91% reduction in IR schools since 2014) – strong focus on (i) earlier literacy (PreK enrollment of four-year olds has grown from 62% to over 90% while 3rd grade reading scores gained another 5 percentile points on the state in 2017-18, due in part to deployment of instructional coaches and CLASS instructional assessment tool across grades K-2), (ii) retention of effective principals and teachers through increased pay tied to robust multi-measure evaluations since 2014; (iii) strategic staffing of their more effective teachers in their more challenged schools, known locally as “ACE”; (iv) substantial expansion of open-enrollment school choice in dual language, single-gender, STEAM, Montessori, personalized learning, etc. which tends to reduce student mobility and income segregation; (iv) rapid expansion of early college and P-Tech programs to every comprehensive high school in the district with 1 in 4 high school students enrolled;
Lancaster ISD (Grades 3-8 Math has grown 26 percentile points since 2012, while 8th grade science has grown 29%, with both growth numbers leading all County ISD’s) – robust focus on (i) teacher professional development and project-based learning made possible by a multi-year grant from Texas Instruments and EducateTX; and (ii) early literacy though substantial expansion of full-day PreK, including partnering with local private providers (3rd grade reading growth has exceeded the state).