Accountability

Why a Judge Stopped Texas from Issuing A-F School Ratings

By Evie Blad — October 27, 2023 2 min read
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A Texas judge has ordered the state not to release annual A-F school ratings in response to a lawsuit from dozens of districts that argued changes in the accountability metric were unfair and announced in a way that violated state law.

Travis County Judge Catherine Mauzy issued a preliminary injunction in the case, ruling that the districts would likely succeed in their arguments. The order will stop the state from announcing its latest school grades until the judge can consider the full case in a trial set to begin in February.

School ratings based on test scores remain among the most polarizing of education policies since they debuted in the 1990s. The scores can affect real estate prices, shape public perception of schools, and affect teacher morale, studies have shown.

A coalition of more than 100 districts, including Dallas, argued in the suit that releasing the ratings in November, as the Texas Education Agency had planned, would cause them irreparable harm, opening the door for potential state intervention in some places and increasing public confusion about schools’ performance. Their arguments come as state lawmakers consider expanding private school choice options in a special session.

Applying a new, tougher formula to last school year’s data would unfairly make it appear that their schools have worsened—even though outcomes have actually improved in many cases, the districts contend. To comply with state law, Education Commissioner Mike Morath should have made districts aware of the criteria at the start of the 2022-23 school year instead of releasing a preliminary draft in May, the lawsuit said.

“We look forward to future conversations with Commissioner Morath about how to implement the assessment and accountability system in a manner that is fair and transparent for all school districts in the State of Texas,” said a statement from Cecilia Reynolds-Perez, the superintendent of the Kingsville school district, which was the lead plaintiff in the case.

The Texas Education Agency told the Dallas Morning News it plans to appeal the decision.

“This ruling completely disregards the laws of this state and for the foreseeable future, prevents any A-F performance information from being issued to help millions of parents and educators improve the lives of our students,” the agency said in a statement.

The state’s planned “accountability refresh” would increase the cutoff points necessary to receive a high grade in college and career readiness, a metric that measures how many of a district’s graduates enroll in college and enlist in the military, among other things.

Previously, a district could get an A in readiness if 60 percent of graduates took such a step. Under the revised system, it would take 88 percent of graduates to reach an A.

Schools would also need to work harder to earn a high grade for improving students’ state test scores under the new measures.

Morath has argued that the agency wanted to make revisions that were significant enough to remain the same for several years so that districts would have “apples-to-apples” data to make improvements. In August, he told the state board of education that such a revision would replace a previous approach of making smaller, incremental changes every year that made it more difficult to compare data over time.

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