State Accountability Ratings: An Open Letter from Dr. Robin Ryan
Posted on 08/08/2018
When I speak to groups in the community, I often ask the audience: “What makes a good school?” The responses range from great teachers to involved parents to happy, well-adjusted students, to good citizens. Not once in eight years has anyone responded: “good standardized test scores.”

On August 15, the State released its A-F ratings for school districts. These ratings are supposed to be a simple way to tell if a school is doing well. The A-F rating system is an attempt to inform us about something as complex as school quality by reducing it to a single letter grade, and that is where it falls short. As accountability expert John Tanner often states: “Simple is good unless it is wrong.” Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and explain the metrics behind the “simple” ratings. This article would become a book the size of an encyclopedia. The State’s A-F ratings will be neither simple, nor comprehensive. School accountability is important and with all we know about teaching and learning in 2018, there has to be a better way to design a more accurate accountability system.

Testing is important, for sure, but using tests as the sole indicator to label and form statistical conclusions about students, teachers and schools will be mostly inaccurate. These tests do not measure skills that many employers repeatedly describe as necessary in today’s workforce: creativity, grit, teamwork, empathy, artistic ability, endurance or compassion. In GCISD, we will examine our results and make appropriate adjustments as we continue doing what is best for students.

Standardized tests have been used to judge schools for almost two decades. Parents and students have been increasingly frustrated that high stakes testing actually hijacks the curriculum and decreases the quality of a student’s educational experience. The 2015 National Superintendent of the Year Dr. Philip Lanoue called it the “fool’s gold” of accountability. Parents have higher expectations for our schools to do more than simply mold students into successful test takers. Our goal is to make sure that every student who crosses the stage is equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to participate fully in their chosen career path and the future of our republic. That takes much more than performing well on one test. Rather than relying on a tired, recycled accountability system, as a district, state and nation, we need to adjust our views on accountability.

As part of developing LEAD 2.0, the next phase of the district’s strategic framework, we are going to develop a robust Community Based Accountability System. The whole premise behind this system is two questions: for what should we be accountable? And to whom should we be accountable? We say all the time that our students and staff are not defined by scores on standardized tests, but we also know that we need to have robust accountability that actually reflects the values and expectations of our community, along with the educational standards of the State. I am all for accountability, but it needs to be based on more than just a snapshot of how our students perform on one day. This Community Based Accountability System will provide an opportunity for our parents, community, staff and students to determine the standards that are important in this community, determine how best to meet those standards and be transparent in reporting out on those metrics.

As educators, our job is to champion the more than 5.4 million students receiving a public education in the State of Texas. More specifically, we must champion the almost 14,000 students in GCISD. One definition of a champion is “a winner of first prize or first place in competition.” We are very fortunate to win a lot of championships in GCISD, and while the hardware that comes along with it is nice, the characteristics of a champion are more important. Focus, courage, motivation, perseverance, and integrity are a few commonly recognized traits of a champion and none of these are measured by the new A-F Accountability System.

The State’s A-F system tells a story, but it is an incomplete and limited one because almost everything that happens at school is not captured in a letter grade determined by a standardized test. It cannot capture the hopes, dreams and aspirations a community has for its children. It will not tell the complete GCISD story. We can do better and we are committed to improving moving forward. Done well, an accountability system should be accurate, credible and used by all stakeholders to improve our schools. We will use the A-F information as one of many data points on our quest to provide an excellent education for every student who walks through our doors in order to continue to Build Excellent Schools Together.