Our state's accountability and assessment system was created to provide transparency and critical information to students, parents, and community members across Texas. This system, sometimes referred to as “A-F” in reference to the letter grades campuses and districts receive, is an opportunity to identify trends and areas to better support student learning, as well as expose inequities in access to a high quality public education.
Without this accountability framework, families, lawmakers and taxpayers would have no knowledge of which schools are successfully supporting students in their academic journey, and which require more resources and engagement in order to do so. In spite of this, some are fighting, all the way up to the state’s highest court, to effectively dismantle this system by rendering it toothless. With this in mind, it's more important than ever to take stock of what the data tells us about student achievement and equity. In reality, that data contains many glaring warning signs we should immediately act upon, rather than ignore and excuse.
Students experiencing economic instability are 35% more likely to attend an F-rated campus than their relatively affluent peers. Even worse, Black students are 62% more likely to attend an F-rated campus than students of any other race. This stark inequity would remain largely hidden were it not for our state’s accountability framework, and it has meaningful consequences for the educational experience of the students in our state.
Take, as one example, teacher experience. Research demonstrates “large returns to experience for teachers in the form of both higher test scores and improvements in student behavior.” Given the clear impact teacher experience has on overall student learning objectives, we should strive to concentrate effective educators on struggling campuses, or at least evenly distribute them. By looking at data provided by the state’s accountability framework, we know that this is not the case.
Instead, as demonstrated above, a student at an F-rated campus is 2.4x more likely than a student at an A-rated campus to be taught by an educator in their first year of teaching. Overall teacher experience on the “failing” campuses is 20% lower than on A-rated ones.
Districts across the state have been able to use this information to implement evidence-based programs designed to bring the best teachers to underperforming campuses. By strategically staffing effective educators at historically underserved campuses, Crowley ISD improved reading and math achievement by double digits in the course of a year, Lubbock ISD dramatically decreased disciplinary referrals, and Dallas ISD was able to bring its number of F-rated campuses down from 43 to 4 in only a few years, tangibly improving the educational experience of over 17,000 students. This type of systemic change would not have been possible without the actionable information our accountability system provides.
Critics frame their opposition of this system in terms of its reliance on a standardized test, in this case the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR. The STAAR is a series of evaluations crafted by Texas teachers, aligned to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, and administered to students in grades 3-12, the results of which make up one factor in the final “A-F” grade campuses and districts ultimately receive. (See this page of the Texas Education Agency’s website for breakdowns of each of the system’s domains.)
So does this particular assessment accurately assess student knowledge and readiness to succeed at the next level? To determine that, we can look outside of the exam at other measures of student success and see how they relate to a campus’ ultimate accountability grade.
College, Career, and/or Military Readiness (or CCMR) is arguably the ultimate goal of all PreK-12 education. It is also a technical term defined not by one standardized test but satisfactory achievement on any one of a variety of metrics: SAT, ACT, achievement of an Associate degree, achievement of an industry-based credential, and/or successful enlistment in the armed forces.
If the STAAR test were a faulty measure of student success, there would be no correlation between campuses and district accountability ratings and the rate at which their students graduate College, Career and/or Military Ready. Instead, as demonstrated below, there is a clear positive relationship between campus rating and CCMR rates.
The differences in CCMR rates on A- vs. F-rated campuses are stark: over 60%. This data not only elucidates the devastating impact of attending a failing campus, but reveals that the letter-based grades in our state’s accountability system contain a great deal of meaning at each level. Students generally, and students experiencing economic instability specifically, are more likely to graduate ready for the next life stage at an D-rated campus than an F-rated one, but more likely still at a C-rated campus, and so on all the way up to A.
As with the disparities in teacher experience, these are inequities we can assess and address only because our state’s accountability system provides us with the data to do so. The unequal racial and socioeconomic demographics across differently-rated campuses make leveling the playing field a moral imperative. Dismantling oversight won't solve these problems; it'll only make them harder to find.