Replace A-F with community-based accountability system

By James B. Cowley, Ed.D. - Guest Column
Jan. 10, 2017 at 10:57 p.m.

James B. Cowley

James B. Cowley   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

Calhoun County Independent School District serves the majority of school-age students in Calhoun County. All of us in CCISD are aware that the success of public schools is important to preserving our democracy. Citizens need to be cautious of legislative measures whose hidden intent may generate a negative impact on the image and effectiveness of our schools.

Starting with the 2017-18 school year, the Texas commissioner of education will label each public school district and campus with a rating in the form of an A-F letter grade. Public school leaders oppose this new accountability system for several reasons.

Our belief is that Texas students would be better served by a comprehensive community-based accountability system. This system would look beyond high-stakes, multiple-choice tests to meaningful assessments that have value for students, parents and teachers, as well as measures that each community deems important in promoting career and college readiness.

More specifically, here are some reasons Texas should replace A-F with a Community-Based Accountability System:• A-F rating systems are based predominantly on once-per-year standardized test scores. An overwhelming majority of Texas recently surveyed by the State Board of Education have said they do not want standardized test scores to serve as the primary basis for Texas' school accountability system.

• A-F systems fail to account for varying socioeconomic conditions that influence performance. Letter grades based largely on standardized test scores hold schools and districts accountable for many factors they do not control. Researchers have established that instruction in schools only influences about 30-35 percent of a student's test score, leaving the other 65-70 percent attributable to non-school factors.

• Grades in an A-F system will align with wealth or poverty and are likely to punish poor schools for being poor. Studies have shown over and over again that educational outcomes correspond to broader socioeconomic conditions.

• A-F rating systems provide no sense of what schools must do to improve. "Simple" letter grades based on a complicated system of calculations is neither transparent nor useful for improvement.

• A-F rating systems create false impressions about an entire neighborhood of children. The practical result will be to negatively judge schools that serve students who have had fewer opportunities than their more advantaged peers, while positively judging schools with the more advantaged students for the mere fact that they are more advantaged. That means teachers serving disadvantaged students are likely to be designated as bad teachers, while teachers serving advantaged students are likely to be designated as good teachers, and no one will know the actual truth.

• A community-based accountability system would empower school districts to design their own internal systems of assessment and accountability that, while meeting general state standards, allows districts to innovate and customize curriculum and instruction to meet the unique needs and interests of their communities.

In January, preliminary "what if" A-F ratings will be shared with our legislators based on data from the 2015-16 school year. No matter what rating is assigned to each of our campuses, know that as educators, we will be actively working to improve the lives of our students. This improvement is based on more than just a test score; we are interested in the whole child.

This year the reliance on standardized testing as a tool in the evaluation of students, teachers, campuses and school districts has increased tremendously and will continue to be hotly debated. No matter the ultimate outcome of the debate, the final rules approved or the legislation passed into law, know that all of us at CCISD are working to have the children in our district be successful.

As a district we are truly appreciative of the great partnership that we have with our parents, businesses and other stakeholders in the county. We have a great set of teachers, teacher aides, administrators, support staff and board of trustees that strive to have each student meet their greatest potential.

As the Texas Education Agency moves forward to implementing the new changes in the A-F accountability system, we in CCISD remain firm in our commitment to become the destination district for the Golden Crescent area of Texas.

James B. Cowley, Ed.D., is the superintendent of Calhoun County ISD. In 2012, he was the Texas Rural Education Association Superintendent of the Year. He may be contacted at



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