TEA’s rating of district based on one school, LISD plans legislative priorities

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Photo illustration by The Lewisville Texan Journal.

In a board work session Sept. 4, Lewisville ISD assessment director Sarah Fitzhugh explained that LISD might have earned a higher rating on the state A-F grades released at the beginning of August. The board also discussed the legislative priorities document it will present to local officials this month and looked toward building next year’s academic calendar.

In August, the Texas Education Agency released its first official A-F ratings of school districts in Texas. Lewisville ISD earned an 89, but had already publicly rejected the rating system. At the work session last night, Fitzhugh explained that going through the full calculation, LISD actually earned a 90.2, but was assigned 89 because school districts are not allowed to score higher than that with at least one campus classified as “improvement required.” Central Elementary was classified as “improvement required” for LISD.

“We’re not asking not to be held accountable,” she said. “We just really would like a balanced approach to assessment and accountability.”

Fitzhugh went into detail about all of LISD’s issues with the state accountability system. The district’s stance is that reducing school districts to a grading system as simple as an A, B, C or so on makes the assessment so simple as to not be effective. The system itself is uninformative, and thin margins between schools could lead to different grades — a school district that scores 90 is an A and one that scores an 89 is a B, but a district that scores as low as an 80 would still be considered a B.

Additionally, the ranking system is based only on student performance on the STAAR test, which LISD has had difficulty with before.

Fitzhugh described several problems with the way the STAAR test is administered that make it a poor way of measuring student growth, and problems with the way the TEA uses that data. Fitzhugh said STAAR test scores are statistically post-equated, meaning that the standard for what constitutes success is set in hindsight based on the scores — the test isn’t graded on a curve, but the bar for what’s seen as success is on a curve.

“If they set the standard flat-out, students did what they did and you measured it, they’d be fine,” Fitzhugh said. “The reality is, we get results in, we then go back and set all of our metrics, so how do you ever show growth if the test is always considered ‘too easy’ when you show growth?”

Fitzhugh also described the STAAR performance standard system, under which it is possible for every single student to approach grade level, but for the school to still fail. Each student is assigned a result based on their STAAR test — did not meet grade level, approaches grade level, meets grade level and masters grade level. Though “approaches grade level” meets the state standard, if every single student at a given school met that standard and no better, the school itself would fail by Texas standards.

Fitzhugh also said that the district’s scores were hurt by the TEA’s choice to not include PSAT scores into calculations. Fitzhugh said that the TEA was initially going to accept PSAT tests, with “meets grade level” on those tests counting as “masters grade level” for some students, but districts that did not administer PSAT tests complained that this was unfair, and that too many students who “meet grade level” on a PSAT could not “master grade level” on the STAAR.

Deputy superintendent Lori Rapp noted that since the STAAR test is only assessed at the end of the school year, it isn’t something teachers can act on directly.

“By the time you give a STAAR, it’s autopsy day at that point,” she said. “If there was anything they were going to do with assessment that would be helpful at all, it would be give the test sooner and let teachers have the data and let them do something about it.”

Before diving into its objections to the rating system, the board went over its messaging to the state legislature. Every legislature, the LISD board sends a list of requests for representatives. You can read a draft of the document the district intends to send the upcoming 86th legislature here.

By and large, the board liked the content of the draft, but wanted to streamline it — in particular, they wanted to reduce it to one page and move toward buzz phrases that were both short and echoed by other school districts.

“The way we just said that, there are a lot of school districts who have said it better,” board member Tracy Scott Miller said, referring to the document.

Board member Jenny Proznik also suggested adding reasons why the board is making these requests to the document.

“If I can point a member of our community into why we don’t want the TEKS a mile wide and an inch deep, then I can get them to buy in,” Proznik said. “If I can get them to understand why we feel that way, I can get them to become an ambassador for public education for LISD.”

At the end of the evening, the board discussed its general desires for putting together the next academic calendar. Board members were universally satisfied with the new format that started this year with early, mid-week start date, the full week break over Thanksgiving and the two week/three weekend winter break.

Though controversial at the time, board members said they’d received nothing but praise for the calendar from parents and staff after the fact.

“Heck yeah, I like semester scheduling!” Proznik said.

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