Revisited: Is 'A' Really for Affluent?
Updated: Mar 22, 2019
Almost seven months ago to the day, I wrote the analysis that follows in order to bring attention to a few misleading statements made by TEA regarding the A-F accountability ratings.
In my original analysis, I made the following claim:
If TEA wanted to be honest, they would have simply stated that there is a moderate correlation between districts of poverty and their final A-F rating.
Well, seven months later, we now have this clip from Jamie Crowe, the Executive Director of the Performance Division at TEA, discussing the A-F ratings during his testimony earlier this legislative session:
"...that's a moderate correlation."
The question now: what are they going to do about it?
ORIGINAL POST FROM AUGUST 2018:
The Texas Education Agency and Commissioner Morath are doing everything they can to claim that the new A-F accountability system is "fair and balanced." They made this point very clear in this file that provides an overview of the system:
And TEA further emphasized that there was not a strong correlation to poverty for district ratings...
...or with individual campus ratings...
TEA touted the success of high-poverty districts in their first press release about the A-F ratings:
"Under the 2018 A-F state accountability system, 153 school districts and district charters achieved an A rating. Commissioner Morath noted that many of those districts are accomplishing strong performance for all its students in areas with high levels of poverty."
So, there it is. The system is fair. Balanced. Not correlated with poverty.
But, wait...what did that say:
Why not just say that the ratings are not correlated with poverty? Strongly seems...odd. The addition of that modifier would seem that the ratings are correlated with poverty but not to a degree that is significant enough to matter.
At least that's what it would seem TEA is saying.
But just how strong (or not strong) is the correlation between the A-F ratings and the poverty levels of districts? Well, luckily TEA provides a simple way to download the ratings for every district in a single data file. We can download the file, run a few formulas in Excel, toss our data on a scatter plot, and see for ourselves exactly how correlated the ratings are to poverty.
So, that's what I did.
Now, to be fair, I didn't correlate every district across the state. Instead, what you see above are only multi-campus, non-charter districts that were not impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
Several of the districts that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey did not receive ratings this year (for obvious reasons), and some single-campus districts are so small---I'm looking at you Olfen ISD---that they are outliers no matter where they fall. And when discussing charter districts, while there are many great charters that do great things for kids, the "come one, come all" expectation isn't the same with charters as it is with traditional public schools.
Regardless of how many districts ended up in my analysis---742 districts to be exact---the message is clear:
Strongly, apparently, is quite subjective.
All of the districts except two with 20% or less economically disadvantaged students received an A, and those two exceptions were B's. No C's or lower. Districts with 90% or higher economically disadvantaged students: zero A's. A few were close, but this is not horseshoes or hand grenades.
Fair? Balanced? It sure doesn't seem that way.
But let me pause here for a minute. Let's make this clear: I'm excited for the districts that earned an A. I truly believe no public educator in any position in any district has an easy job. Teachers, principals, coaches, janitors, superintendents, aides: it doesn't matter. Everyone in public education works hard for their students.
My goal with this post isn't to discount any of the great things districts across the state are doing for their kiddos.
My goal is to point out the very misleading claims made by the Texas Education Agency as it relates to the correlation between the ratings districts received and the level of poverty that exists within those same districts.
If the ratings didn't correlate to poverty, the graph should look something like this:
Turns out that regardless of what percentage a district spends of its general funds are on campus administration, the district rating isn't impacted. This is what uncorrelated values look like.
...tells a completely different story.
So do these graphs:
But that story is for another day and another post.
If TEA wanted to be honest, they would have simply stated that there is a moderate correlation between districts of poverty and their final A-F rating. But to expend so much effort to deny any such correlation is misleading, and it's exactly why applying a simple letter grade to summarize a very complex, very elaborate evaluation score is ridiculous.
TEA and Commissioner Morath have been clear from the beginning that they wanted it to be "mathematically possible" for all districts to earn an A in this accountability system. While they may have accomplished this task---there were districts from almost every level of poverty that earned high ratings---that doesn't mean they were successful in created a system that does it in a fair and equitable manner.
I mean, it is just as "mathematically possible" for both Bill Gates and me to fly to the moon. But that is a much more realistic goal for him than it is for me given the resources we have at our disposal.
And so it is with this system. Yes, all districts could earn an A. And those districts with high poverty that did just that accomplished something incredible.
Too many districts, however, weren't so lucky, and the grade they received does not reflect the value they provide to their students and to their community.
In the first press release from TEA about the A-F ratings, Commissioner Morath stated the following:
"Districts with high levels of poverty who attain this high level of performance are proof positive that poverty is not destiny. With strong instruction and curriculum, all students can succeed."
And, here, Morath is exactly right. Poverty is not destiny. We have great schools across this state, great schools with students working through tough circumstances, and those schools have incredible instructional practices, a solid curriculum, and teachers who give their hearts daily to their kids.
And some of those schools---those teachers, those students---received a C.
Not because of a lack of strong instruction and curriculum. But instead because of a strong correlation that we're supposed to believe doesn't exist.
If you are not in public education or if you are and have been so focused on your kids that you haven't had time to delve into the depths of the A-F system, TEA has pulled out all of the stops to make certain everyone is aware of the system and how it works. They have brief videos that answer all of your questions in under a minute. Commissioner Morath has covered the topic on his blog. He even started a podcast---TEA Time (Such. A. Terrible. Name.)---to discuss various educational topics, but the first three episodes have focused solely on the A-F system.
While not great and completely misleading at times (i.e. you can't accurately explain a system with a 194-page manual in one-minute videos), I do believe all educators should learn as much about this system as their time allows them to learn.
This is not a good system. I wouldn't say it's terrible, but changes need to be made. However, we can't improve what we don't understand. If we can't articulate the specific areas that need to be tweaked, then we will simply have to live with what is placed upon us.
That is not fair to our students. They deserve better.
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