Despite being reported in the press on January 5, 2017 the new Texas A – F Grading system is going to be reveled on January 6, 2017. This initial release is not intended to be a label or a “meaningful grade” on Texas schools and districts but instead a “what-if” rating. This is what our grades could look like if they were to be given today.
I am trying to wrap my brain around this new system because I am going to have to help my staff, parents, and community members better understand what all of this really means. Let’s see how I am doing in my processing and understanding…
Has This Been Tried Before?
Based off the reactions that are being made on social media and in the early press reports, the “what-if” grades are not being well received. It seems that we have seen this song and dance before. Remember Florida and their A-F unveiling? Read more about how there were many low scoring districts and the “adjustments” that needed to be made to the A-F grading system by clicking here, here, and here.
My Take So Far…
As a principal of a middle school campus in a successful Texas public school district I find that I have to be able to understand and explain a grading system that is based upon an assessment process that does not reflect best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment. Let’s compare the two really quick…
In my school our classrooms often buzz with the sounds of learning, collaboration between peers, facilitation of learning by our teachers, and checkpoint and mastery checks that often involve technology tools as a part of daily assessments. Those assessments are used to shape future learning and lessons to push students toward mastery of learning. Students are able to move around their classrooms, sit in collaborative groups, use technology tools, lay on the floor, use flexible furniture, with individualism and creativity highly encouraged. Seems like a great way to learn huh?
State assessments are the complete opposite of the day to day learning in our school. Students have to sit in columns and rows, no one can speak, answers are bubbled in circles or written on 26 lines that is graded in 90 seconds or less, and the results of these assessments may or may not be returned for schools to use within the same school year. All students are expected to take the exact same test and give the exact same answers as their peers all across Texas. That is real world right?
So what do you think? Is basing the A-F grading system off state assessments reflective of what we do in schools on a daily basis? Maybe in some schools, but not any school that I want your kids to learn in and be a part of. Not any school that I wish to lead because this is not how students should have to learn, rows and columns, no collaboration, no technology, no feedback.
What are the Domains?
Domain I is said to measure student achievement. This basically looks at how ALL of our students performed on the STAAR test. There is a nice little formula to help calculate the different letter grades for this Domain. Now, let’s not forget that the STAAR test does not actually measure student achievement. It actually measures the averages of students because it is a norm-referenced test designed to rank and order students and schools. Make no mistake, STAAR is not about student achievement but, instead, about student averages. There is a difference.
Domain II is said to measure student progress on the STAAR test from year to year. This would seem to be fairly straight forward. Students either improve their STAAR performance year to year or they don’t, right? The hang up is the STAAR test itself. The passing standards are not determined until AFTER the testing has been conducted, the passing standards are changed year after year, if everyone answers questions correctly then the question could be thrown out, and some content areas are only tested every three years meaning students have to pass three years’ worth of standards in a single test. Do you still think it is straight forward?
Domain III is titled closing the gaps. What you need to know is that this is NOT a measure of the closure of any performance gaps between different student groups. Instead this is a measure of our economically disadvantaged students and how they perform on STAAR. There is not a comparison between “succeeding students” and “struggling students” but instead to an expected passing rate and an actual passing rate that is based only on our low social economic students.
You also need to know that based on the mathematical formula being used for domain III, the more economically disadvantaged students a school and/or district has the lower the expected passing rate is for that school and/or district. This means if your school has fewer poor students those students are expected to pass a higher rate than a school with more poor students. Think about that for a minute.
Domain IV is said to measure post-secondary readiness. This domain is based off attendance rates, drop-out rates, graduation rates, college entrance exam performance, career and technology courses, AP/IB courses, and dual credit courses. Elementary schools only have attendance rates for Domain IV and middle schools have attendance rates and drop-out rates.
Domain V will be community based accountability. This domain will allow school districts the opportunity to rate theselves on different areas other that STAAR (state assessment). Please click here for an excellent example of my district's community based accountibility. For the release of the "what-if" scores Domain V was not mentioned due to a "lack of data". I feel that our district has plenty of data with our community based accountibility assessment to hold us accountable to our students, parents, and community on what is most important to us as a community.
How will the single A-F grade be determined?
In the actual grade all 5 of the domains will be averaged into a single grade for the campus and district. Does that make sense to you? It does not make sense to me because this means that everything we do comes down to a single grade that labels our schools, our students, our teachers. There are so many of these items that are out of the control of schools but the legislature feels that a single letter grade will tell the story of a school. What do you think?
So now what?
So as you look at your school and district “What-If” A-F grades ask yourself this question: Are the experiences that you and your child are having in that school reflective of the grades that are being placed upon the school?
Take these “what-if” grades with a grain of salt because they are going to change. All we have to do is look at other states that have decided to use this approach to rate their schools and we will see that grades will be adjusted with the political winds that blow the strongest.
Over the last few years there has been a challenge in the Twitter world to think of #oneword to describe the coming year. If you think about it, choosing one word to encapsulate an entire year is not an easy task. After much thought and contemplation one word continues to surface over and over again. Mindset.
Mindset is important to me because I believe that your mindset really shapes your world. Think about that for a minute. You see what you look for. There is good and bad, right and wrong, struggles and success in every situation. You choose where to place your focus.
Of course there has been a lot of talk, discussion, and literature about growth mindset and fixed mindset. I am not thinking of mindset in those terms right now. I am thinking of mindset more in relation to your perspective, your focus, your viewpoint, your attitude. All of these influence your mindset in any given situation.
As educators our mindset determines how we work with the people we encounter each and every day. If we have a mindset of wanting to work with students, parents, peers, and community members to meet them where they are and help get them to where they need to be we are more likely to achieve success in our efforts. If we have the mindset that we have to work with students, parents, peers, and community members but we don’t take into consideration of where they are when they come to us (because they should already know this stuff) then we will not be successful in getting them where they need to be. It all begins with ourselves and how we choose to approach each day.
I wish you all the greatest successes in 2017. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” To me, this demonstrates the correct mindset in our line of work. You cannot wait for everything to be just right before taking action. Do what you know to be right. Perfection often paralyzes the well-intended; do not wait for everything to be perfect because you may never get started. With the right mindset you will achieve success, even through failure.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Director of Instruction and Leadership Development
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are
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