Preliminary accountability ratings released Jan. 6 by the Texas Education Agency as it transitions to a new A-F rating system sparked concerns from educators and education groups statewide after grades across the board were lower than many expected.

Several district superintendents have criticized the new rating system, saying the grades some of their campuses received contradict past distinctions they have received. TCTA also sent out a press release, pointing out that "several of the 26 Texas schools awarded the 2016 national Blue Ribbon designation for excellence, for example, received Cs and Ds in TEA's preliminary ratings.”

The A-F system, enacted last year under House Bill 2804 and set for implementation in the 2017-18 school year, is intended to simplify ratings to provide a more transparent view of performance, but the methodology behind the letter grades is so complex that even school leaders may not understand how the grades were determined, much less parents, who have bombarded educators with questions about the new system since the preliminary grades were released.

Education Commissioner Mike Morath stressed that the ratings are preliminary and have no impact on districts at this time. "The ratings in this report are for informational purposes to meet a legislative requirement and represent work-in-progress models that are likely to change before A–F ratings become effective in August 2018," Morath said in a statement. "No inferences about official district or campus performance in the 2015–16 school year should be drawn from these ratings, and these ratings should not be considered predictors of future district or campus performance ratings."

TCTA opposed HB 2804 in 2015 because of the lack of nuance in letter grades given to an entire district or campus and because of the punitive connotations of the lower grades. Even a "C" designation, which equates to an "acceptable" rating, sounds mediocre at best. Fortunately, legislators will now have the chance to make changes to the system before it is fully implemented in the 2017-18 school year, and many districts hope they will. As of Jan. 6, at least 60 districts had passed resolutions urging lawmakers to repeal the legislation.

UPDATE: The House Public Education Committee held a hearing in March on House Bill 22, which would overhaul how letter grades are assigned to campuses. The bill, which was voted out of the House Public Education Committee in early April, would delay implementation until the 2019-20 school year, place less importance on assessments and take into consideration other factors, such as participation in extracurricular activities and support of low-income students. Committee Chair Dan Huberty, R-Houston, said he introduced HB 22 because he was “tired of listening to rhetoric about ‘our failing schools.’”