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We need better information about our schools

SBOE member Thomas Ratliff makes a lot of sense about school accountability ratings and how little they really tell you about a given school’s performance.

Many people across the state are familiar with the terms “exemplary,” “recognized,” “academically acceptable” or “academically unacceptable” when reading about our public schools. Unfortunately, the majority of people have no idea what those words really mean in the context of school performance.

The TEA assigns these one- or two-word descriptions to entire campuses and entire school districts in an attempt to provide the public with a general indication of how that campus or district is performing academically. The problem is, they don’t tell the whole story.

In fact, these rankings only tell the public how the lowest-performing sub-group is doing. Yes, you read that right, the lowest. What are the subgroups? Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged and special needs students are the sub-groups the TEA tracks.

So, at your local district, four out of five sub-groups could be doing great while one is struggling, and the whole campus or district gets the low ranking. An analogy: If a whole high school track team ran races every month, and at the end of the year, every team member received the worst time of the slowest runner, it would be how our school accountability rating system works. Does that sound fair or accountable?

People love to talk about government being run like a business. Tell me about businesses that issue news releases only about how the weakest part of their organization is doing. They don’t. They tell you how the entire business is doing — the good and the bad.

We should demand the same from TEA when they tell us about our local schools.

His basic argument, with which I agree, is that the Texas Education Agency should provide details about how all of the subgroups perform in a given school, and presumably rank schools by how they did within each category. It’s quite clear what the benefits of that would be. That takes on extra importance now because the TEA has made changes to the controversial Texas Projection Measure, which had previously overstated the results at many schools. As Ratliff notes, some schools could see their accountability rating drop while nonetheless having better performance overall among its students. I hope the TEA listens, and may I say again how lucky we are that he knocked off Don McLeroy last year.

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