We Get What We Deserve

Happy New Year! I hope 2017 finds everyone looking forward with optimism and excitement to what a new year may bring.

One thing that 2017 will bring is a new rating system for Texas public schools. As I have written before, the old rating system had two levels: “Met Standard” and “Improvement Required”. The problem with this system is that what the State of Texas means by “Met Standard” was never very clear. When we look at the ratings, we consistently find that about 95% of districts meet the standard, leaving about 5% to be rated as “Improvement Required”. Depending on your point of view, that could mean 95% of schools are doing great or the standard is set too low. My concern has been that the old system bred a sense of complacency. Districts could tout their “Met Standard” rating and the public would think everything is fine but not have the information to really determine when students were meeting their potential.

The new rating system attempts to remedy that. Under the new system, school districts and individual campuses are assigned a letter grade, A-F, just like students do. It has the benefit of being easy for the public to understand. The rating system takes several aspects of school performance into account.

  • Three STAAR-based categories: These are: standardized test results (how many students passed), year-to-year or student growth, and the closing of performance gaps. This makes up 55 percent of the overall grade.
  • Post-secondary readiness: This category includes graduation, dropout rates, and attendance. This makes up 35 percent of the overall grade.
  • Local districts’ self-grading: Indicators, such as survey results, chosen by each individual district make up 10 percent of the overall grade.

The new rating system takes effect in 2018, but the Texas Education Agency is releasing a preview this month. There is a lot of concern on the part of district administrators about this new rating system. That’s understandable. No longer will a district that is just clearing the “Met Standard” bar be lumped into the same category as those districts that are the state’s top performers. (The description of the basis for the rating system comes from an article in the Dallas Morning News.)

With that said, what can we expect from Seguin ISD? Unfortunately, not much in the way of good news.  Based upon our SISD STAAR performance and post-secondary readiness reporting, I expect the district to receive an overall grade of “D”.  It is unlikely that any of our campuses will achieve a grade higher than a “C”.

I anticipate a lot of “spin” from SISD administration when this information is released. In fact, it’s already starting. Just before Christmas, the district sent out a letter to all teachers, suggesting that they contact their state legislators and ask them to ditch the new rating system. Why? You can see one version of the complete letter here, but I will focus on two sentences:

Impoverished neighborhoods will likely be shamed for being poor.”

It is embarrassing that the State of Texas intends to label its children and those who have dedicated their careers to educating these children as failures.”

Here we see the narrative that the district is creating: the fault lies not with the district but with the children. The children are too poor to learn and are being labeled as failures. And that, right there, is why we are where we are.

Seguin ISD is failing to educate large numbers of our young people. For those who read this blog, that is no secret. The data are clear. Do we do some things well? Yes. But for many of our children, the district fails them. This is true because we allow it. And we allow it because we buy into the narrative that poor children can’t be successful in school. We, as a community, have long tacitly accepted this as truth. And because we accept it, we created a Board of Trustees that accepted it and a district administration that accepted it. From there, the mindset crept into our classrooms, so that now even teachers and, I fear, our students believe it.

Oh yes, the district talks about helping every student succeed, but when challenged, we see the position to which they retreat: “shamed for being poor” and “label its children…as failures”. Why? Because, at bottom, that’s what we have allowed.

Readers, we can argue back and forth forever about the new school rating system. Is it perfect? I am sure it’s not. Could it be better? I am sure it could. Is it accurately portraying how SISD is performing? I believe it does. The critical question is this: when will we stop accepting the status quo and demand better? I have written before about districts with populations similar to ours that excel. It can be done. It is being done. But not here. Not until we demand it. Let’s make 2017 the year that Seguin demands better.

Together, we can do better.

Bob Stephens

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