As students and teachers return for the first day of classes, the Texas Education Agency released its 2018 accountability ratings of school districts Wednesday under the agency’s newly implemented A-F grading system and the local school districts fared pretty well.


The Van Alstyne Independent School District received an “A” grade while the Howe Independent School District was given a “B.” The new grades reflect the 2017-2018 academic year and are based upon students’ scores on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, graduation rates, post-secondary readiness, academic growth and districts’ ability close student performance gaps.


The Texas Tribune reported state officials said the new grading system for school districts is more transparent than ever, especially when compared to the outgoing pass/fail rating system. The Texas Education Agency created a website that allows parents to look up their districts and schools and immediately see a letter grade, as well as the data used to calculate it.


“There’s some level of understanding about what A-F means, and that’s part of the reason of what makes this easy for families,” TEA Deputy Commissioner Penny Schwinn said at a briefing for business and legislative officials Tuesday.


The A-F grades replace the state’s previous accountability system which remained in place through the 2017-2018 school year and assessed districts on the “met standard or “improvement required” designations. In early 2017, the TEA rolled out unofficial equivalency scores to let districts know how they were projected to perform under the A-F system and most districts across the state found themselves with overall scores ranging from “C” to “F.”


Locally, each individual school in Van Alstyne ISD and Howe ISD received “met standard” assessments.


Texas went through several rounds of retooling its calculations for the grades during a pair of legislative sessions. The Texas Tribune reported that during the most recent session in 2017, lawmakers decided on a rating system with three categories: student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps.


School districts receive a letter grade for each category, but the calculation behind the overall grade sees 70 percent based on the “student achievement” and “school progress” categories, with the state only counting the better score of the two categories. The “closing the gaps” category is used for the other 30 percent of the overall grade.


Individual campuses were assessed with “met standard” or “improvement required” designations this year, but will also be graded under the new A-F system starting in 2019.


Proponents of the system say it’s designed to be easily understood by parents and students’ families, but the switch has led many school districts to speak out and band together in their opposition. In January 2017, 60 school districts from across North Texas, announced their participation in the Legislative Priorities resolution, which called on Texas lawmakers to do away with the grading system. On Wednesday, the Texas Association of School Boards said the A-F grades were uninformative and unlikely to lead to significant changes or improvements in the education system.


“These new A-F labels will not automatically change student performance in school, nor will they bring solutions to lower-performing schools,” the association said in a press release. “Most importantly, new A-F labels tell educators, parents, and communities little if anything new or useful about their local schools.”


The rating system has a heavy reliance on state test scores as a measure of student performance, but the Texas Tribune reported many educators would prefer less overall emphasis on those tests. TEA said those standardized tests offer consistent statewide metrics.


“We can’t actually create a system that holds the expectations that we all have for our individual students, because all of our students look different, come with different knowledge bases, skill sets, etc,” Schwinn said Tuesday. “It is de facto imperfect.”


To see the Texas Education Agency’s 2018 complete accountability ratings and scoring formulas, visit txschools.org.