Del Valle and Leander ISD Supers Testify Against New State-Imposed School Rating System

Dozens of districts have joined the lawsuit

The new grading system would label more schools as failing, which would allow the state to take over more districts (Photo by Getty Images)

School superintendents in Del Valle and Leander testified in a lawsuit against the Texas Education Agency on Tuesday, arguing that TEA Commissioner Mike Morath broke the law in his rollout of changes to the A-F accountability system that assigns grades to school districts.

“I think it is clear we have a unified front with a very similar argument – that the commissioner has, in our mind, broken the law,” said Leander Superintendent Bruce Gearing. “He has to be accountable to that.”

The A-F accountability rating is a tool used by TEA to measure the success of public schools. The grades are announced each year and are extremely important to local communities. Districts with low grades can be taken over by TEA, something that recently occurred in Houston. Low grades also lead to lower enrollment, resulting in less money for the affected schools and reduced economic investment in the communities they serve.

The A-F grades were expected to be released in September but are now scheduled to arrive next month. The release was pushed back after districts across the state complained that Morath had radically changed the way the ratings would be calculated and had given the districts no time to adjust to the changes. School officials estimated that the new calculation would cause the scores of districts across the state to fall by at least one letter grade, even if their performance had improved. Austin, Del Valle, and Pflugerville’s scores were expected to drop from Bs to Cs or even Ds.

The TEA lawsuit has been joined by dozens of school districts and asks that a permanent injunction be placed on the release of this year’s scores. It argues that Morath has exceeded his authority by planning to release the ratings without providing the “measures, methods, and procedures” he used to calculate them, something that is required by the Texas Education Code. “The Texas Education Agency has stated that the Commissioner intends to apply different rules and methodologies that have not yet been finalized and will only be finalized during the 2023–2024 school year,” the suit states.

In court, TEA’s attorneys argued that the ratings methodology is already public but admitted that the final version of the methodology has yet to be published.

Education professionals have worried that TEA’s change in how it calculates the ratings is part of a plan to undermine the public school system that it was created to support. They believe it is suspicious that the announcement of the new, lower grades was scheduled to arrive just as Gov. Greg Abbott had called a special session demanding the adoption of a voucher scheme. Vouchers, which Abbott claims are a necessary response to the state’s failing public schools, drain money from public education and redirect it to private schools. “I don’t have any evidence the two are connected,” Rep. James Talarico said in August of the ratings change and Abbott’s voucher dreams. “But I’m worried that these are efforts to undermine people’s confidence in their public schools and pave the way for private school vouchers.”

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Del Valle ISD, Leander ISD, Texas Education Agency, Mike Morath

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