Dear ColleaguesIt’s that time of year again, and unfortunately, I am not talking about the emergence of the first wave of wildflowers. As we near the end of March, things are starting to move toward decision time in the Texas Legislature.
In its last session, the legislature determined that Texas would create an accountability system that would give schools and school districts an A-F grade—mostly based on STAAR results. As we shared on January 6 and January 10, the TEA Commissioner created a preliminary model for how this would be deployed and, in fact, provided “what if” grades for schools and districts that reported what these grades would have been if the proposed model had been in place for the 2015-2016 school year. Some head-scratching and sometimes conflicting results exposed some obvious flaws and brought an immediate chorus for change.
In mid-February, I traveled to Austin to visit with members of the House Public Education Committee as well as the Education Chair in the Senate. My message to them was that no matter what system of school accountability is used, it will be both flawed and, I believe, harmful if it is anchored almost exclusively on STAAR results. No one test can accurately measure the complex issue of school effectiveness. As an unintended consequence, when only a small number of things are measured as a part of this public ranking system, you will find that other things will start going away in order to shift resources of time, material and even people to those things that “count.”
Each meeting ended with my telling them that Plano ISD would continue to measure our work based on a far more diverse set of measures. We want to help our students pursue excellence wherever their interests take them and acquire the 21st century skills that they will need in virtually any future career. I shared a one page document that had examples of the outcome indicators we analyze under each of our student learning Operational Expectations. We are able to take a much more holistic view of our work on behalf of children through indicators including quantitative assessment results; survey responses from students, parents and teachers; measures of achievement in CTE and fine arts; and service learning experiences. I concluded by asking everyone I spoke with if they had children or grandchildren. When the answer was yes, I asked them if they would rather have the people at their child’s school being guided by the things in our outcomes (which include survey questions asking students if they feel safe, feel valued and engage in schoolwork that provides opportunities to give and receive feedback as they learn to collaborate and communicate effectively) or have them focus on STAAR test preparation to earn an “A” or “B”?
The good news is that House Bill (HB) 22 calls for a dramatic change to the legislation that requires school grades, and virtually all of the different types of metrics I shared have found their way into this Bill. Five domains in the original legislation are collapsed into three and while there remains a grade for each domain, the summative grade was eliminated. Finally, because it will take time to figure out how some of these additional measures can be folded into the domain grades, the timeline for first reporting them has been pushed out a year to August 2019. There is an expectation of studying “what if” analyses in the next two years to guide TEA—and truthfully all of us—about what seems to be fair and add value and what does not.
Last week, I testified before the House Public Education Committee related to HB 22. My three major points were 1) appreciation for this real attempt to include more things that are meaningful as it relates to the “complex issue of school effectiveness,” 2) knowing the difficulty and complexity of including these other metrics, “doing this right is more important than doing it fast,” and 3) supporting the expectation that as the Commissioner works to figure out how these things get folded into each Domain grade, “practitioners in the field can and should play a valuable role in developing these measures.”
In my February conversations, I made it clear that I didn’t believe school grades were the best way to measure or support school effectiveness and improvement. In front of the committee last week, I chose to conclude with the following that encapsulates the difficulty of this concept of a school grade:
Intuitively, you know that the higher the stakes placed on items to be measured, the more likely it is that things not measured will fall away. So we’re trying to fit the multitude of valuable things done in schools for children into a school grade that gives us the simple answers we desire. Going forward, let’s all keep educational benefit the criterion as we make the best decisions we can make for students, parents and teachers.
I will keep you posted as this and other important legislative deliberations and decisions unfold.
As always, thank you to each of you for all that you do to make our schools great places for children to grow and learn.
Dr. Brian T. Binggeli
Superintendent of SchoolsSuperintendent's Update | March 28, 2017