DISD superintendent: School ratings changes are political

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DALLAS — The Texas Education Agency wants to change how it grades public schools across Texas in its A–F accountability system.

But dozens of districts are fighting back with a lawsuit.

Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde says there are no coincidences, and she thinks the upcoming special session in October has everything to do with the TEA’s timing.

“I think it’s strategic. And I think it’s very well planned. I also think it’s not fair. I also think it’s wrong. I absolutely think that there is some concerted effort to ensure that public schools do not look favorable,” Elizalde told us on Inside Texas Politics.

During that special session, lawmakers will once again debate school vouchers, which would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to send their kids to private schools.

Critics argue vouchers weaken public schools because they take money away from them.

Democrats and rural Republicans have long joined forces to fight against school vouchers. And one of the big questions heading into October is whether any of those rural Republicans have been convinced to support the effort.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has threatened to support primary challenges against any Republican who votes against vouchers.

Elizalde says they are counting votes leading into the special session and despite the threats, she’s optimistic rural Republicans will help hold the line.

“But when you hear the Governor threatening people, then shouldn’t we all ask ourselves well, if it’s such a great idea, why are threats even necessary?” she asked.

At least 100 districts have joined the lawsuit against TEA Commissioner Mike Morath trying to prevent the grading change.

All of the largest districts in North Texas are now involved, including Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, Denton and Arlington.

Dripping Springs ISD outside of Austin was the latest to join the lawsuit, initially launched by Kingsville ISD, a smaller district located between Corpus Christi and Harlingen.

The districts argue they haven’t been given enough time to adjust to the changes and that the TEA hasn’t been transparent about the changes to the formula.

Morath has said the changes are needed to make sure districts are serving students well and helping them prepare for the next grade.

The grades are primarily based on standardized test scores from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR.

But because the grading formula would be applied retroactively, districts say many school scores would drop, even though student achievement is improving.

Elizalde says DISD is currently a B as a district, but under the new formula, that grade would drop to a C.

And that, she says, gives the impression they’re doing worse, when the reality on the ground is very different.

And families often make decisions based on the grades, choosing where to buy homes and send their kids to school, so the stakes are high.

“Our STAAR data are showing increases almost across the board,” said the superintendent. “Aren’t the letter grades supposed to correlate, not contradict, our actual student academic achievement?”

While the new scores were supposed to be released in September, they’ve been delayed until October or November.

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