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The New Texas A-F Accountability System: Why it Fails to Make the Grade for Students with Disabilities

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Schools and districts MUST be held accountable for improving outcomes for students with disabilities, as well as any other consistently underperforming student groups, in a meaningful and realistic way. It's the law.  With TEA releasing its 2018 school and district report cards this past week, we wanted to take a closer look at the new system and what it means for students with disabilities.

Texas's new A-F accountability system rates schools and districts on performance in three domains: student achievement, school progress and "closing the gaps." According to TEA, schools and districts are held accountable for improving the performance of student subgroups, including students receiving special education, through the Closing the Gaps domain. However, there are several significant problems with the system which should be of particular concern to families and advocates of students with disabilities.

Issue #1: At least one third of school districts and over half of schools in Texas will not actually be held accountable for improving the performance of students receiving special education. In Texas, a school or district doesn't have to report data for any student subgroup with 25 or less students.  According to TEA, using 2016 data only 65% of districts and 44% of schools meet the minimum number for students receiving special education. The rest have no accountability and thus no incentive to improve outcomes for our disabled students. 

Issue #2: The system relies too heavily on statewide assessment results that, for many students with disabilities, do not accurately reflect what they know or are able to do.  Despite receiving extensive stakeholder feedback from parents, teachers and advocacy groups criticizing the STAAR, performance and growth related to the assessment continue to play starring roles in the accountability system. In developing this new system, Texas had the opportunity under the Every Student Succeeds Act to add a new, even non-academic, indicator of school quality or student success such as school discipline or student engagement. Instead, TEA chose yet another measure of STAAR performance which begs the question how much, if any, influence does stakeholder input really have on such decisions in Texas?

Issue #3: The accountability system sets challenging achievement goals for all students and each subgroup of students but does not provide sufficient programs, services or supports for districts and schools to achieve them.  For example, TEA set the initial target for schools and districts 4-year graduation rate at 90% for all students and each subgroup of students regardless of their baseline. This requires a 12% jump for students receiving special education services and an 18% jump for English Language Learners. But no details have been given as to how that goal will be achieved and no additional funding, services or supports are being provided to achieve it.   

Issue #4: A school or district's performance with regard to students receiving special education services will ultimately have little, if any, effect on its overall rating. In calculating the final "grade" for any school or district, the Closing the Gaps domain is only worth 30%. Within the domain itself, schools and districts can be evaluated on the performance of up to 14 different subgroups of students; effectively diluting the impact of any poor performance by a single subgroup of students. A district could easily fail to improve achievement levels or outcomes for its special needs students year after year while still maintaining an "A" accountability rating. Again, this provides little incentive for districts to focus their efforts or resources on our students.   

Want to know how your school or district did, and which student subgroups made the cut?  Click here. 

Christine Broughal
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We envision a state in which all individuals with disabilities are identified, and receive an education that maximizes their future potential for post-secondary education, employment, community participation, and independent living.

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