On April 23, 2013, Commissioner of Education Michael Williams released details of the new 2013 Texas public school accountability system. The Texas Education Agency will issue the first ratings under this system to school districts, campuses and charters on Aug. 8, 2013.

Test-based measures still the basis

The new system will use a performance index framework that considers four areas (including student groups that are part of that index):

  • Student Achievement – Represents a snapshot of performance across all subjects, on both general and alternative assessments, at an established performance standard. (All Students)
  • Student Progress – Provides an opportunity for diverse campuses to show improvements made independent of overall achievement levels. Growth is evaluated by subject and student group. (All Students; Student Groups by Race/Ethnicity; English Language Learners; Special Education)
  • Closing Performance Gaps – Emphasizes advanced academic achievement of the economically disadvantaged student group and the lowest performing race/ethnicity student groups at each campus or district. (All Students; Student Groups by Race/Ethnicity)
  • Postsecondary Readiness – Includes measures of high school completion, and beginning in 2014, STAAR performance at the postsecondary readiness standard. This measure emphasizes the importance of students receiving high school diplomas that provide the foundation necessary for success in college, the workforce, job training programs or the military. (All Students; Student Groups by Race/Ethnicity; English Language Learners; Special Education)

Although one of the major benefits of an index approach to accountability is the ability to incorporate a wide-ranging number of measures for a more complete picture of school/district performance, the framework disappointingly continues to rely disproportionately on student performance on the state assessment as the chief measure by which schools/districts are to be held accountable.

All four of the proposed performance indices are based on student performance on the state assessment, with the exception that Index 4 (Postsecondary Readiness) also incorporates, for high schools, the graduation rate, dropout rate and enrollment in the Recommended High School program.

TCTA is concerned about the continued over-reliance on high-stakes tests, particularly when TEA’s own materials state that one of the advantages of an index system is that: "Any number of indicators and student groups can be added to the system without creating additional targets for campuses and districts to meet."

TCTA has long advocated for inclusion of measures other than state standardized test results in the state accountability system, which is now more feasible than ever given the index system approach that TEA has announced. For example, TCTA has proposed including measures of the learning environment, such as:

  • the percentage of teachers: assigned out of field, not fully certified, and with fewer than three years of experience
  • the teacher turnover rate
  • the number of class-size waivers by grade level
  • organizational health survey results on issues such as the quality of professional development offerings, administrative support in student disciplinary matters, and the extent to which non-instructional duties for teachers are minimized

Research indicates that performance on these sorts of indicators has an impact on student performance.

Labels not A-F, just yet

In the final system, districts, campuses and charters will receive one of three ratings: Met Standard; Met Alternative Standard; or Improvement Required. However, work will continue on the conversion of this new system into an A-F rating system for 2014.

TCTA supported changing the current accountability rating labels to a pass/fail system with distinction designations as envisioned by House Bill 3 passed in 2009.

The 2013 accountability system will allow eligible campuses that achieve the rating of Met Standard to receive distinction designations in the following areas: 

  • Top 25 Percent Student Progress
  • Academic Achievement in Reading/English language arts
  • Academic Achievement in Mathematics

These distinction designations will be based on campus performance in relation to a comparison group of campuses.

Estimated impact

The percentage of campuses estimated to receive the Improvement Required rating will range from 7 to 12 percent. Since performance on Index 2 (Student Progress) cannot be modeled, the commissioner set the target for it at about the fifth percentile of campus performance. This means that about 5 percent of campuses, or about 383 campuses, will not meet the Student Progress target in 2013.

Still no cohort comparison

Additionally, TCTA has advocated that campus and district ratings reflect a “difficulty level” or “cohort comparison” factor so that the ratings present a fairer picture of how campuses and districts are actually performing in light of the individual challenges they face.

The current accountability ratings correlate too closely to the socioeconomics of the populations being educated. Such a change would recognize the advantages and disadvantages of campuses and districts without creating differing standards for students.
This did not change in the final system.

Alternative accountability measures

The original proposal for the postsecondary readiness index included a recommendation that the index construction criteria be modified for alternative education campuses with both a graduation and GED rate. The index produces two separate scores: a graduation and GED score and a STAAR score. The final index score is weighted so that the graduation and GED score counts for 75 percent of the index score and STAAR Level III performance counts for 25 percent of the score.

At that time, TCTA provided input that said we would prefer to use consideration of student demographics as an index factor, and eliminate alternative accountability standards/systems for any campuses, including charters, if transparency is a goal. This was not changed in the final system.

Use of end-of-course retest results

The original proposal did not allow for EOC retest results to be included in the calculations. TCTA questioned that, and the final proposal does include EOC retest results.

Student subgroup minimum size

The original proposal set the minimum size for student subgroups (in order to be included in accountability calculations) at equal to or greater than 20, which was lower than the minimum size requirement under the prior system. At that time, TCTA questioned why the student subgroup minimize size was lowered. In the final system, it is set at greater than or equal to 25 students.

Phased-in student performance standards to be used

The original proposal required the immediate use of the final student performance standards, rather than the phased-in standards, as the basis for school/district accountability determinations.

TCTA questioned that, stating that given the magnitude of the increase in the student performance standards, coupled with the elimination of the supportive infrastructure that has historically been in place to enable schools and students to meet increased expectations (e.g. the Student Success Initiative), we saw no reason to immediately base school/district accountability determinations on the final student performance standards.

The final proposal uses the phased-in student performance standards as the basis for accountability ratings.

2013 ratings criteria and targets

Commissioner Williams has publicly stated that he intends to assign the most weight to the Closing Performance Gaps index. Although we understand the rationale for including the Closing Performance Gaps index as one of the four indices, at the time of the original proposal, we questioned whether it should be weighted the most heavily for a couple of reasons:

  • Given that closing the performance gap is unlikely to happen if top-performing students continue to improve (which we would think would be considered a worthy goal of any system), to weight this index the most heavily creates the risk of a perverse disincentive for schools/districts to promote improvement of high-performing students.
  • Closing performance gaps is also one of the campus distinction designations, so the concept is included twice in the accountability system: once in the base system and once in the distinction tier.

2013 performance targets

For 2013, each of the four indices will have a score of 0 to 100 that represents campus/district performance points as a percentage of the maximum possible points for that campus/district. The performance targets that are set for each index will be used to assign accountability rating labels. The 2013 ratings criteria and targets will stand alone because the performance index framework cannot be fully implemented in 2013.

To receive a Met Standard rating, all campuses and districts must meet the accountability targets on all indices for which they have performance data in 2013. Schools with students in grade 9 and above must meet the standard on all four indices. Schools with a high grade of 8 or lower must meet targets on Indices 1, 2 and 3.

  Non-AEA Campuses and Districts AEA Campuses and Districts
Index 1 – Student Achievement 50 25
Index 2 – Student Progress fifth percentile* fifth percentile*
Index 3 – Closing Performance Gaps 55 30
Index 4 – Postsecondary Readiness 75 45
*Target will be set at about the fifth percentile of campus performance and will be applied to both campuses and districts.

According to TEA's announcement, 2013 will be considered a transition year. Accountability advisory groups will reconvene later this year to finalize recommendations for accountability ratings criteria for 2014 and beyond.

Williams acknowledged various aspects of the state accountability system are currently being discussed by the Texas Legislature. Any changes in bills passed during the legislative session can and will be incorporated into the system, according to TEA.