Texas Faces More Scrutiny Over Grading School Districts Using A to F Model

Earlier this year in Austin, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush promoted his education ideas with Texas lawmakers.

One idea was to give schools and districts letter grades from A to F.

“That kind of formula for success is the one that we try to share with other states around the country that are embarking on this same journey.”

Bush started the A to F model in Florida. Now at least 15 states use it, according to his Foundation for Excellence in Education. It promotes policies around the country.

Texas will soon join them. Lawmakers decided to use the A to F system for school districts in 2016, under House Bill 5.

The letter grades are supposed to be easy to understand — just like a student’s report card. An A is the best. An F is failing. But this kind of grading system is facing more scrutiny around the country.

“And I end my tenure with my head held very high”

That’s Tony Bennett. He resigned this month as education commissioner in Florida over a grading scandal.

Emails obtained by the Associated Press show back when he was head of Indiana schools, Bennett quietly changed the state’s A to F formula to benefit a charter school. It was run by top Republican donors.

Critics say it’s just one example of how this A to F system can go wrong.

Bob Schaeffer with the group FairTest says it’s too easy to manipulate.

“When we’ve seen that appointed individuals can change school grades from C's to A's and from D's to C's, these grades don’t mean very much. These grades are, in fact, meaningless.”

But accountability is still important to teachers like Neyda Borges in South Florida.

“As a teacher when you give grades A to F, you know what an A is. An A is 90 percent and above. And no matter what 90 percent and above is an A.”

But the way her school makes an A changes. She counts more than 30 changes in three years.

“Because it’s not just determined on a student’s performance. At the high school level in particular, this is where it starts to get kind of complicated and it changes. A school grade is not determined only by student scores.”

There are other factors like graduation rates and how many students take college level classes.

Here in Texas, the final formula is still in the works.

Education officials say the new A to F system will be based on data and will have safeguards.

Shannon Housson is with the Texas Education Agency.

“But we’ll be working with our educators and advisory groups to say, what does it take to have an A, require X performance on all indexes and Y performance for a B and so on. That’s really a future discussion for us.

Texas will have about three years to figure it out. Districts are supposed to get their first letter grades in 2016-17.

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