Education

Texas Education Agency delays release of 2023 A-F accountability ratings by a month

The delay comes as the agency faces a legal challenge to the way it’s evaluating school districts.

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School districts will be waiting a little bit longer to see what grades they've earned from the state. The Texas Education Agency announced Tuesday that it will not be releasing the 2023 A-F accountability ratings on Sept. 28 as originally planned. Instead, the TEA said it will release the results in about a month because it needs more time to ensure the data is taking the impact of COVID-19 into account.

If school districts get low grades long enough, the state can intervene. Ratings can also impact student enrollment and local property values.

According to the TEA, the delay will give state education officials more time to review data used to calculate how much students have improved academically throughout the year "to ensure ratings reflect the most appropriate goals for students."

TEA's decision to postpone the ratings' release comes as the agency is facing a legal challenge over how it's evaluating schools' performance.

Last month, seven school districts sued Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath over changes to the criteria used to determine whether districts are successfully preparing students for life after high school. In previous years, a school district could earn an A if 60% of students were considered career and college ready. This year, TEA raised the threshold to 88% for the top grade.

The change is part of an update the agency was making to the accountability system for the first time in about five years. TEA is required by state law to periodically update this criteria.

"The A-F system is designed to properly reflect how well our schools are meeting those high expectations, and the adjustments we are making this year will ensure it continues to serve as a tool for parents and educators to help our students," Morath said in a statement from TEA.

But the school districts that sued allege Morath violated state law by releasing the new guidelines too late. The superintendent of Del Valle ISD, one of the districts suing, told KUT last month that she did not have a problem with higher standards, but was concerned the new criteria was being applied to students who graduated in 2022 — before districts knew about the new standards.

"Our graduating seniors of 2023, they are at 85% college, career and military readiness,” Annette Tielle said. “However, they're not the students where this is being applied. It's applied to our graduating class from 2022.”

Del Valle ISD and school districts throughout Texas have been anticipating their ratings will drop by at least one letter grade under the new criteria.

Ovidia Molina, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, said Tuesday she hopes Morath ultimately decides not to significantly increase the career, college and military readiness standard.

“Tinkering with accountability ratings is made even worse by the fact that Texas still woefully underfunds our public schools, spending more than $4,000 less per student than the national average,” she said in a statement.

Molina added that while evaluating how school districts are doing is important, the state needs to develop an evaluation system that is not largely based on standardized test scores.

The TEA began working on the update to the A-F accountability system in October 2021, before releasing proposed changes in January.

Based on feedback it received, the agency said, the new criteria would take the impact of the pandemic into account by using data from the 2018-2019 and 2021-2022 school years to establish what the average level of student growth should be. Now the agency is saying that based on data from the last school year, growth during the 2021-2022 school year is "more anomalous than expected" and won't make the best baseline to evaluate performance.

The TEA said it is holding off on releasing the 2023 ratings so it can continue looking at the data that informs the scores for academic growth and closing performance gaps between students.

The agency also told school districts it will be taking some other information into account when calculating the new ratings.

A hearing in the lawsuit against Morath is scheduled for Sept. 25, just days before the TEA previously planned to release the new ratings.