EDUCATION

The Texas Education Agency has launched a limited pilot program for a new local accountability system.

While area school districts are not participating in the pilot program, they could be impacted in years to come.

“All school districts in Texas had an option to apply to be part of the pilot,” said Wendy Sledd, Copperas Cove Independent School District spokeswoman.

The system was established last year by Texas House Bill 22 and passed during the 2017 legislative session. The bill allows school districts to develop their own standards for accountability on top of the standards already established by the state. Local accountability would not in any way replace state accountability.

As part of the pilot program, 20 systems will participate: Alief ISD; Austin ISD; Bullard ISD; Canadian ISD; Clear Creek ISD; Dallas ISD; El Paso ISD; Humble ISD; Jonesboro ISD; Lyford ISD; Midland ISD; Point Isabel ISD; Premier High Schools; Richland Collegiate High School; San Saba ISD; Sharyland ISD; Snyder ISD; Spring Branch ISD; Sunnyvale ISD; and Waco ISD.

Districts participating in the pilot program will be required to attend four monthly meetings hosted by TEA in the spring of 2018 as part of the local plan development. Once a plan receives TEA approval, districts and charter schools may use locally developed domains and indicators in conjunction with the three state-mandated domains to assign overall A–F ratings for each of its campuses, according to information on the TEA website.

“CCISD did not volunteer to be part of the pilot roll out of the program,” Sledd said.

Killeen Independent School District was not asked to be part of the pilot program, according to Terry Abbott, KISD chief communications officer. “We will continue to work closely with our professional educator organizations, in particular the Texas Association of School Administrators and the The Texas School Alliance, on such ongoing issues,” he said.

Temple and Belton schools are not yet affected by the new system but might choose to participate later.

Temple Independent School District Assistant Superintendent Bobby Ott said that outside the pilot program, in order to be eligible for local accountability, a school will need to have earned an A or a B on the state’s new letter grade accountability system. That letter-grade system has not yet gone into effect.

“Schools are coming up with different options to add on to the accountability system,” Ott said. “For example, it could be fine arts, it could be advanced academics like IB (International Baccalaureate, a program similar to Advanced Placement courses) — things like that that, say, your local community may value, that is not measured in the regular accountability system.”

Ott is in charge of curriculum and instruction for Temple ISD. He said that this state program might be a response to grassroots discussions in Texas school districts that it might be better to establish their own accountability standards in order to better communicate with district residents and parents.

“It would never supplant the state accountability system,” Ott said. “But it may gain enough traction to supersede it because if you were able to create one locally, perhaps you could create one that’s simpler and more easily understood to your constituents.”

Assistant Superintendent Deanna Lovesmith said that Belton Independent School District is taking a wait-and-see approach to the new program.

“It’s still pretty vague in terms of what all that will entail, because the state’s been continuing to revise and address what the official accountability system will be,” Lovesmith said. “Right now we are just continuing to focus ... on developing our curriculum and our professional development to build our teachers’ knowledge and skills, and we are not focusing on what that accountability system may be.”

Lovesmith is also in charge of curriculum and instruction. She said that Belton schools chose not to be a part of the pilot because the district is unsure as to whether or not the state will stick with the program.

“They just continue to make changes, so we are not confident that the system that they’re talking about right now won’t be changed again soon,” Lovesmith said.

According to a news release from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, the 20 participating districts will be required to attend four TEA meetings this spring. Once the districts come up with a set of accountability standards that meet TEA approval, they may begin to assign letter grades to their campuses.

Ott said that the pilot accountability program could be useful if it helps keep the public better informed of what’s going on in local schools.

“Really, the number one goal of an accountability system should be to inform the public,” Ott said.

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