Editor’s note: In advance of the May 6 election, the Daily Herald is asking candidates’ opinions about issues facing the district.
Candidates running for Killeen school board weighed in on the state’s new A-F evaluation system last week.
In emailed responses to the Daily Herald, some of the candidates said the Texas Education Agency needs to provide more clarity on the elements taken into account that help the state agency grade school districts and some said districts should be accountable.
The new school grading system will officially begin in August, but a preliminary set of grades was released to districts around the state in January. Killeen Independent School District received overall grades of: Student achievement — C, Student progress — B, Closing the gap — C and Postsecondary readiness — F.
Candidate Lan Carter said she appreciates the idea behind creating an easy-to-understand rating system, but she called the A-F system, in its current form, flawed.
“Military families relocate to new areas constantly and a primary concern with most parents is finding a home in a ‘good’ school district,” Carter said. “Often times, parents are confused at the various rating systems from the various states. Obviously, an A-F system seems easy enough to understand for most people.”
However, the A-F system is not as simplistic as it seems to be, Carter said. Once you look into the five domains and the calculations, it becomes difficult to call this rating system “transparent” or “simple,” she added.
“We’re trying to get away from putting so much emphasis on standardized testing and growth, yet it is used as a large component of the calculation,” Carter said. “It also fails to take into account poverty and learning.”
She said officials need to “scrap this system as it doesn’t take into account what students, educators, and staff do on a day to day basis. It doesn’t set schools on an even playing field.”
Candidate Steven Drayton said changes are needed to the current accountability system because of how they negatively affect teacher curriculum.
“From my research, I think that accountability ratings hinder the teacher’s ability to individualize lessons and push students to be better,” he said. “Districts should focus on meeting students at their individual levels and being what students need. The accountability ratings over-generalize and set arbitrary expectations without taking into account individual student needs, abilities, limitations and enrichment opportunities. Therefore, the system fails everyone ... The ratings does not take into effect the schools that have fewer resources. You cannot compare schools because they are not on equal footing.”
Candidate Gerald Dreher said the preliminary ratings should be taken very seriously.
“I believe that it is irresponsible to dismiss the results simply because the reporting system is not perfect,” Dreher said. “If a hospital were to receive these grades on an inspection there would be very serious repercussions. Similarly, I would expect that our educational leaders would take these results seriously and use them to drive meaningful change to provide better outcomes for our students.”
To discount a grade of F simply because the grade is arrived at by a “complicated system of calculations,” Dreher said, does not mean that “we did not receive a failing grade or have room to improve.”
Accountability is necessary for growth, candidate Lonnie Farrow said about the rating system.
“Accountability at its core is feedback and feedback is a necessity if growth is your desired outcome,” he said. “Every industry has a system of checks and balances which are necessary for regulation purposes and to ensure that product is not compromised.”
Farrow said the letter-scoring system may be new but the indicators of educational effectiveness can be seen in the community at any given time.
“It should not take a letter grade for a district to re-evaluate its processes. Looking at the median income and the poverty rates will tell you how well our school system is preparing its youth for success,” he said. “In this case the ratings received happen to be in line with the tangible results we are living in.”
Candidate Boy Snyder said there does need to be an accountability system in place.
“Schools do need to be held accountable for student learning like any other service industry,” Snyder said. “However, the current A-F rating system does not appear at this time to clearly communicate the successes of students and schools. I wonder if schools had advanced notice of how they were to be rated and the criteria for each A- F rating?”
Snyder said faculty and parent communication will be key in helping the district to improve the ratings overall.
“Meaningful improvement is achieved when individuals are provided with clear, meaningful expectations, and understand how they will be measured and held accountable,” candidate Carlyle Walton said. “The current TEA ratings in the TEA’s own words are ‘for informational purposes and represent work-in-progress models. No inference about official district or campus performance in the 2015-16 school year should be drawn from these ratings’.”
Added Walton: “Understandable, collaboratively developed, vetted rating can improve performance, however, the current ratings are unhelpful and misleading.”
Stephania Williams said she believes the current system can be very effective when used correctly.
“A system of accountability that is understandable and data driven is necessary to accurately document improvement,” she said. “The new system is based off of five performance domains and as with most evaluations creates a baseline. The baseline is the starting point for the district. The baseline is where the district currently is and in no way indicative of where it has to stay. The educational environment for students, teachers and other professionals can flourish based on the system that recognizes achievements and the impact of educators to improve student outcomes. The system is a simple but effective. The system had been used for years to take data on students. Why not utilize it to provide data on District achievement? Yes the system can work.”
Two school board seats are up for the May 6 election.
Marvin Rainwater, the only incumbent running for re-election May 6, could not be reached for comment.
For more election news and information on candidates, go to kdhnews.com/centerforpolitics.
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