Calling all Texas School Leaders: This is an A-F SOS!

Dr. Shelby McIntosh
Dr. Shelby McIntosh, managing director, Southwest, K12 Insight

Across the state of Texas right now, alarms are sounding.

If you were at the TASA Midwinter Conference in Austin last week, you saw firsthand the exasperation on people’s faces.

The state’s new A-F rating system, in which school districts are assigned a letter grade based on a set of predetermined performance metrics, has school leaders and families up in arms.

In an open video to his school community, Dr. Jim Chadwell, superintendent of Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD, said the new system offers a narrow and dangerously unfair view of school success.

Among his reasons:

  • The ratings are based primarily on standardized test scores
  • Similar systems have not worked in other states
  • The ratings do not account for socio-economic variables, such as poverty
  • The ratings do not also include suggestions for practical improvement
  • The ratings create a false sense of shame and failure among teachers and students

“Don’t be fooled,” Chadwell tells his school community in the video. “This new system will not reflect how well a school or district is educating its students.”

Chadwell is far from the system’s only critic. Across the state, school leaders are sending out an SOS on A-F.

‘Greatness demands intentionality’

The system’s opponents say their opposition is not about making excuses for schools; it’s about demanding better from local accountability planning. The purpose of every school-based evaluation should be to form an accurate picture of performance, and to outline a pathway for continuous improvement.

Because A-F is broad and largely inaccurate in its representation of schools, it stands to have a deep negative impact on those in the trenches, including teachers and students who are making progress. This denigration of academic self-worth harbors significant potential emotional and financial costs for schools.

Anticipating this, some forward-thinking school leaders have sought to write their own narrative based on community feedback. In Denton ISD, Superintendent Dr. Jamie Wilson and his team worked with K12 Insight to create the What We Value initiative, a massive community engagement effort that asks community members, including teachers and parents, to share what school success means to them. (Check it out.)

Wilson says the goal is to be intentional in their work, making decisions based on feedback from the people who “they are truly accountable to,” not a letter grade handed down by the state.

Veteran school researcher Dr. Shelby McIntosh, managing director, Southwest, K12 Insight, says there is a checklist of more than 200 items that Texas school districts must consider when creating more intentional community engagement, from strategic planning and survey writing to promotion to analyzing community feedback.

Don’t throw up your hands in the face of A-F. There is a proven process out there that works.

Learn more:

If you work in Texas schools, the A-F debate isn’t going away anytime soon. To learn more about the work that Denton and other districts are doing, reach out to Dr. McIntosh at smcintosh@k12insight.com, or call her: 703-483-5979.

Making state grades matter: 3 keys to stronger local accountability planning

By Dr. Shelby McIntosh

When the Texas Education Agency released its preliminary A-F ratings for schools recently, a lot of educators–and parents and students, for that matter–were up in arms. And rightly so.

Dr. Shelby McIntosh
Dr. Shelby McIntosh

Across the state, critics of the preliminary system said the ratings discounted the quality teaching and learning that takes place every day in Texas schools. No school is perfect. Improvement is something educators, like students, aspire to daily. But it stings nevertheless when the good work you do feels like it isn’t counted.

The solution lies with a well-thought-out local accountability plan–a necessity that many school districts across the state have yet to master. Here’s three steps you can take right now to improve local accountability planning and community engagement in your district. If you want to talk more about how to do this, my contact information is below. I’m happy to walk you through it.

#1 Amplify the community’s voice

Give your community an opportunity to say for themselves how schools should be judged. Find out what’s truly important to parents and teachers and students. My bet: test scores rank pretty low on that list. Based on the feedback you receive from your community, and provided you’re in a position to really listen, you might find that qualities such as engagement and overall school climate are more important.

#2 Collect only the information you need

When you first start thinking about local accountability, the inclination will be to ask your community for feedback on every aspect of your school system. Resist the urge to throw the kitchen sink into your next district survey. Use up-front feedback to identify the areas that are important to the people who matter most. Then drill down where they tell you it counts. You can ask that other stuff later.

#3 Tell your story for real

Don’t let state legislators and others write your narrative for you. You know what an “A-plus” education looks like for your students and families. Make sure the people writing the rules and doling out the grades know it too. Present the data in the context of a compelling story–and turn information into action for your schools.

These are just a few of the many ways that your school district can leverage the power of local accountability planning to highlight its success, and improve its standing with the state. 

About the author

Dr. Shelby McIntosh is a former educator and school researcher living in Texas. She is currently Managing Director, Southwest, for K12 Insight. Reach her at smcintosh@k12insight.com.