- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Public schools across Texas received preliminary grades Friday under the still-being-overhauled academic accountability system - but education groups say the incomplete results already show the new A to F scale stigmatizes classrooms in poor and heavily minority areas.

The Texas Education Agency released grades for more than 1,000 school districts and 7,000-plus K-12 campuses in the categories of student achievement, student progress, college readiness and efforts to close the achievement gaps between minority students and whites. But it didn’t provide overall grades because results weren’t ready for a fifth category measuring “community and student engagement.”

Education Commissioner Mike Morath cautioned that the grades, which were included in a 494-page report to the state Legislature, weren’t official and that binding results won’t come until next year. In the meantime, Texas will continue adhering to an accountability system that rates districts and schools as “met standards” or “improvement required.” On that scale, 94 percent of school districts received passing assessments last academic year.

“The ratings in this report are for informational purposes to meet a legislative requirement and represent work-in-progress models that are likely to change before A-F ratings become effective in August 2018,” Morath said in a statement. “These ratings should not be considered predictors of future district or campus performance ratings.”

The number of districts awarded As statewide didn’t rise above 190 in any of the report’s four categories. In the category of student achievement, which relies heavily on students’ standardized test results, just 64 Texas school districts got As and 270 got Bs. Another 450 earned Cs, while Ds or Fs went to 407 districts.

Even without final results available, the early grades reverberated around the state. Houston public schools, Texas’ largest district, even put out a statement reminding anyone accessing area campuses’ early grades: “The work-in-progress grades are incomplete.”

Nearly 65 percent of Texas’ 5.2 million public school children are black or Hispanic, and about 60 percent of students statewide come from impoverished households. Breakdowns by schools and districts with large numbers of black and Hispanic students were provided in the report, but were incomplete.

Still, critics say the early results overwhelmingly reveal that districts and schools in poor areas - as well as those that have a lot of students requiring extra instruction to learn English - are most likely to get flunking grades.

“Basically they show what we anticipated,” said Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association. “The schools in the upper-middle class neighborhoods do pretty well, generally, and schools in poor areas don’t.”

The change in the accountability system was approved by Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature in 2015, with supporters saying it would make it easier for parents to understand how their local schools and districts truly measured up. Florida implemented an A-F accountability grading system in 1999 and, when its new grading system is complete next year, Texas will become the 17th state to follow suit, according to the nonprofit group Test Sense.

“The Texas Legislature’s requirement to grade schools on an A-F scale is a flawed concept,” James B. Crow, executive director of the Texas Association of School Boards said in a statement Friday.

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