Throw away the report card

BowieCCT1's picture

It is a well known saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The axiom applies to a lot of different areas of our lives, and is one that I agree we should follow.

Which brings me to today’s announcement by the Texas Education Agency of the so-called “report card” for our schools known as the A-F Ratings system.

This is definitely a case where you should not judge the book by its cover.

After spending some time today looking over the grades for our area school districts, and talking to some local educators, it becomes clear very quickly that “digging into the data”, as the reports calls us to do, will quickly result in blurred vision and a confused mind.

The attempt to give us a “School Grades for Dummies” guide on behalf of our legislators and state officials may be just that, an attempt, but unless you are happy just in knowing your school district got an A or an F, this report is about as easy to read for most of us as a cookbook in Braille.

On top of that, the 40-plus frame Powerpoint presentation that was issued by the TEA to explain the grading system points out some guidelines that make me want to question the system even more.

For example, it says that the braintrust behind this system say they want the bar to remain the same for five years, “where the rules don’t change.” I don’t know about you, but in five years, things change. Five years ago I was a reporter for the Tribune. Today, I am the publisher. The rules changed. Five years ago, I was living in DeKalb, now in New Boston. Five years ago, my oldest daughter was in college, today she is a stay-at-home mom with a three-month old child. The rules have changed.

Most importantly, this TEA grading system has one major flaw that stands above all others. It uses standardized testing as its foundation. The framework for the whole system is based on test scores from one day in a student’s life.

This is where things really grind my gears, and has for a long time.

Here’s the rub.

Let’s say you wake up one morning and get ready to go to work. The night before you were up late, didn’t get a lot of sleep, maybe you had a cold or upset stomach, and so, on your way to do what you do, you are a tad bit grumpy and out of sorts.

You get to your job and your performance is not up to par. Your fatigue and lack of sleep weigh on you. Maybe that report you were charged with doing is not so stellar, not your best work. Maybe your boss rides you a little bit, decreasing your productivity even further. Or, maybe you are so tired you really don’t care how you do on that report.

Think about that when you look at a system that is based on how school kid’s do on a test that is done in a single day. If the foundation has a crack in it, how are we to have any confidence in the whole “building” being up to code?

My final rub with this thing is simple. How many millions of dollars were spent developing and administering a flawed ratings system that could have been spent on teacher pay raises and reducing insurance costs?

The education system in Texas right now reminds me of the Hebrews in the days of captivity in Egypt. Our teachers are down in the pits mixing the straw with the clay trying to form perfect “bricks” while the Pharoah and his minions are cracking the whip, all the while not feeding the workers enough and providing substandard straw.

Yes, we need accountability in our schools, and I believe there is a better way to come to that. But more importantly, we need to take care of those who are entrusted with molding the young lives of future generations. We need to get our policy makers to hear us when we tell them to spend less time on red tape and more time on actually addressing the needs of our kids.

My favorite representative, former New Boston ISD Superintendent Gary VanDeaver, said today, “I'll work during the next legislative session to make needed modifications to ensure that our accountability system is fair and reflects student performance."

I believe he will and we need more like him. Somebody who has been in the trenches of a school system and knows the inner workings.

Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Well, I have read the report, entertained it, but I do not accept it.

We have great schools around here full of great teachers, most of which dedicate themselves to the task of raising up generations of successful, educated students. How about we do what we can to help them?

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