As STAAR results come out, district leaders worry about new state accountability metrics

New metrics in the A-F ranking system make it harder for schools to score highly in some areas.

By Sarah AschAugust 16, 2023 1:05 pm,

Overhauls to statewide standardized testing and scoring have left Texas superintendents nervous about how campus and district ratings might change this year.

Students took a new version of the STAAR test last school year, and the Texas Education Agency has announced that the way it grades campuses and districts based on student scores will also change.

Talia Richman, who covers education for the Dallas Morning News Education Lab, said results from the STAAR will be posted online Wednesday afternoon.

“Last [school] year when they took their STAAR tests, it was the first year that there was a requirement that all of those tests be taken online, not paper and pencil filling in bubbles,” Richman said. “There was also a new cap on the number of points that are allowed to be based on multiple choice questions — so more short answers, things like that. And they also expanded the reading assessment to also test students’ writing.”

Richman said the scores from this updated test will feed into the statewide A-F rankings, in which schools and districts receive a grade each year from the TEA.

“That’s really important because it’s a really accessible, front-facing measure of how well a school is doing,” she said. “It really helps define a school’s reputation, which influences where people buy their homes, where they decide to send their kids. So this is a very important measure that the state puts out every year.”

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The overhaul is part of regular updates the system receives, Richman said.

“These changes have to take place every five years,” she said. “In a lot of ways, the way that standardized test scores feed in [to the rankings] will stay the same. The A-F isn’t just judging how many kids pass the STAAR. It’s also taking into account: Did a school grow their children’s academic achievement? And did they manage to close gaps between student groups?”

The main concern among district leaders is that scores might fall because of higher expectations from the state, making it look like schools are doing worse even if their scores stayed the same – or even improved – in some areas.

District leaders “say these new metrics make it harder to score well. For example, in the area of ‘how well are you preparing your graduates for college or the career or military?’ it’s now harder to score well in that metric,” Richman said. “And they’re worried that people will get a sense that their school is doing worse, even though they say the goalposts have simply changed. So if you looked at Dallas ISD, Dallas was a B last year. If that same data had gone through the new rules, it would have scored as a C.”

Richman said this change is also coming at a time when public schools are feeling a lot of political pressure, and superintendents are worried how this will change people’s perception of schools. However, state officials have said it’s important to raise the bar for schools over time.

“This all comes back to the Legislature. The Legislature has to reexamine the goalposts every few years,” she said. “The reason they give is that you have to keep striving for continuous improvement and not just settle with doing well.

“For example, when you talk about the graduation score — how well our school is preparing students for college, career or the military — when this system was unveiled in 2017, the state said that if 60% of graduates proved ready for those after graduation placements, then the school would earn the equivalent of an A. But since then schools have made a lot of progress in that area. A lot more students are ready for college, career or the military. So they’re saying you need to score at least an 88% rather than 60%. So they’re raising the bar in that way.”

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