In 2017, the Texas Legislature mandated that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) simplify school ratings using a new A-F scale for the more than 1,200 school districts across the state. Proponents of the new A-F system, like Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have pushed for the new system since 2013, harshly criticizing the current rating system for being too difficult and complex to understand.

The new ratings were just issued for the first time in August, but Humble ISD was not rated. Like many school districts in the Gulf Coast area, Humble ISD fell under the TEA’s Hurricane Harvey Provision, meaning that districts affected by the storm were given some leniency. The provision allows schools that would have received a B-F rating to instead receive a “Not Rated” rating for the 2017-2018 school year.

“Harvey” districts were issued a “would be” overall grade. Humble ISD received a grade of 88, or a B. In total, 334 districts across the state received B grades. Several nearby districts were not exempt from Harvey and received either As or Bs. Pearland, Katy and Clear Creek ISDs received As, while Conroe, Crosby and Klein received Bs.

Last January, the TEA A-F grading system had a rocky start. TEA released a work-in-progress model to revamp the grading system for the 2015-2016 school year. That model graded schools on five different performance areas: Student Achievement, Student Progress, Closing Performance Gaps, Postsecondary Readiness, and Community and Student Engagement. The five grades were then combined into a single overall rating.

The first attempt upset many school districts across Texas, including Humble ISD, which issued a strong statement entitled “Five reasons why A-F ratings are not an accurate depiction of our schools.” In general, Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Fagen stated that “the A-F ratings plan has been touted as simple and transparent. The truth is that the underlying calculations are anything but simple and transparent.” At the time, Fagen also said in a Jan. 6 statement, “We embrace accountability, but it is important to remember that these ratings are one data point, largely related to the STAAR test. Our high-quality work is not easily measured by one test.”

Humble ISD expressed concern that the new system utilizes a flawed methodology, inequitable comparison of wealthy and poor schools, and too much emphasis on once-per-year STAAR tests. The district wrote that the rules and calculations behind each letter grade are too complex, making it hard to truly understand just what a letter grade really means and thus creating false impressions. Furthermore, Humble ISD 

said the letter grades give no sense of what a school must do to improve.

The TEA stated at the time that “no inferences about official district or campus performance in the 2015-16 school year should be drawn from these ratings, and these ratings should not be considered predictors of future district or campus performance ratings.”

In the provisional ratings, Humble ISD overall received Bs in Student Achievement and Student Progress and Ds in Closing Performance Gaps and Postsecondary Readiness. Of the 41 campuses rated, 27 campuses received Ds or Fs in one or more of the four categories. The fifth category, Community and Student Engagement, was not rated.

In the interim between January 2017 and August 2018, the old TEA rating system remained in place. Each Texas school received one of four ratings – unacceptable, acceptable, recognized and exemplary. These current categories were used to design the new A-F grading scale.

The new August 2018 TEA grading scale has been simplified. It grades schools in three areas. Student Achievement measures what students know by the end of the academic year, and it factors in state standardized test results from all subjects. School Progress measures how much better students are doing on the STAAR test this year versus last year. It also rates student academic performance relative to schools with similar percentages of economically disadvantaged students. And finally, Closing the Gaps looks at performance among student groups, including various racial/ethnic groups, socioeconomic backgrounds and other factors.

Seventy percent of the accountability rating is based on either the Student Achievement or Student Progress grade, whichever is higher. The remaining 30 percent is based on performance in the Closing the Gaps area.

Given that Humble ISD was not officially graded by TEA this year, parents can turn to other assessments to get a sense of district performance.

STAAR Data for the 2017-2018 school year was just released, rating grades 3 to 8 in reading and math. Humble ISD ranged from a high of 84 percent of fifth-graders passing the reading test to a low of 71 percent of sixth-graders passing the reading test. For math, 77 percent of fourth-graders and 86 percent of fifth-graders passed. The percentages indicate how many students are reading or doing math at grade level.

When comparing STAAR data over three years (2016-2018), all Humble ISD scores in reading and math are higher than the state averages.

Jacqueline Havelka
Author: Jacqueline HavelkaEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
I am a rocket scientist turned writer. I worked at Lockheed Martin-Johnson Space Center for many years managing experiments on the Space Station and Shuttle, and I now own my own firm, Inform Scientific, specializing in technical and medical writing and research program management. I am a contributing correspondent to The Tribune, a Kingwood resident for 12 years, and proud mom to two Aggie sons.

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