By JEANNIE FOREHAND/Director of Accountability

This time last year, I was telling you about the soon-to-come A-F accountability ratings for districts and campuses. For districts, those much anticipated, and much debated, letter grade ratings were released in August 2018.

Abilene ISD received an overall letter grade of B. When compared to nine other nearby districts with similar size and demographics, only one other district also earned a B, all others were C or D. By statute, campuses will begin receiving A-F ratings in August 2019, pending decisions in the 86th legislative session in Spring 2019 affecting accountability.

What I wasn’t able to tell you this time last year was how those A-F ratings would be calculated. Much of that was yet to be announced by the commissioner. That information was posted in full in April 2018. Once that information was received, it became obvious that this approach to accountability ratings was quite different from previous approaches. This approach focused on some new areas of instruction and performance. While I won’t bore you with the minutia and nitty gritty of each calculation used to determine A versus B versus C, etc., and there are MANY calculations, I instead would like to look at the previously mentioned different approach.

In year’s past, accountability ratings primarily focused on students who “passed” the test, with “pass” taking on different names including “Met Standard,” “Approaches Grade Level” and “Meets Minimum Expectations.” This newest iteration of accountability calculations instead focuses on supporting the performance of ALL students – from struggling students to high performing students.

Texas A-F accountability ratings look at three particular measures – Academic Growth, Relative Performance and Closing the Gaps. Academic Growth essentially boils down to ensuring that students do not slide backwards from one year to the next. The measure places an emphasis on ensuring that students who scored Masters Grade Level in the preceding year score Masters Grade Level in the current year, that students who scored Meets Grade Level in the preceding year score at least Meets Grade Level in the current year, and so on. Again, a focus on supporting learning for all students.

In the Relative Performance measure, the A-F system essentially asks: How impressive is the Student Achievement score of a campus or district given the percentage of economically disadvantaged students enrolled at the campus or district? This is due to one of the primary criticisms of previous accountability systems – that student achievement is highly correlated with the percentage of economically disadvantaged students served at a campus or district. The Closing the Gaps area engages in a detailed evaluation of the performance of up to 14 student groups. These groups are defined by race, students served in specialized programs, socio-economic level, and how mobile students are, or how frequently a student changes schools. For each student group, the target established for each measure is based on the baseline performance of that same student group on that measure in 2016-17.

Much has been written about this new A-F accountability system. Yes, it can be challenging to absorb, even confusing. However, if stakeholders will look at it through the lens of reinforcing attention on student learning for ALL student groups, perhaps it can make the accountability pill go down a bit easier.