Trustees voice opposition to new A-F rating system

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Liberty Hill school trustees approved a resolution opposing the State's A-F accountability rating system. Trustee Jeff Madison cast the lone no vote. (Waylon Cunningham Photo)

Liberty Hill school trustees approved a resolution opposing the State’s A-F accountability rating system. Trustee Jeff Madison cast the lone no vote. (Waylon Cunningham Photo)

By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees approved a resolution Monday calling on the Legislature to repeal the newly-implemented rating system for public schools.

Nearly every board member took time during the half hour discussion to voice their frustration, confusion and opposition to the new scores — with the exception of Jeff Madison, who cited a lack of information when casting a no vote against the protest resolution.

His was the lone dissent in the room, a rare occurrence for the school board that rarely strays from unanimous decisions.

Preceding debate over the resolution, Assistant Superintendent Toni Hicks gave a presentation on the new rating, or “school accountability” system enacted by lawmakers and enforced by the Texas Education Agency this month. The policy establishes metrics for assigning letter grades to schools and school districts on a variety of measurements.

Average test scores, attendance, and performance gaps between low-income students and the general student body are just some of the domains used to measure school performance. Liberty Hill ISD’s scores, which are provisional this year, spread across B’s, C’s, and D’s. Administrators and trustees said they felt this was not a meaningful assessment.

“Generally I would recommend not getting involved in these kind of things,” Superintendent Rob Hart said, referring to the statewide momentum of schools opposed to the adopted measure. “But this one is serious. This one has political intentions.”

Noting the few number of schools that received A’s, Hart linked the legislation to a broader state agenda.

“I’m generally not generally a conspiracy theorist,” he said, but the new system “seems to have vouchers embedded in its intent.”

Madison, who remained quiet through much of the discussion except for the occasional question, said he did not have enough information yet to judge the new system.

“This is the playing field that all [schools] are operating under. You can’t point to the weather and say, ‘that’s why we lost the game,’ or ‘that’s why we won the game.’”

He added that he has his “own opinions on vouchers.”

Several members brought up the ‘C’ assigned to the school in one domain for an attendance rating of 96 percent, which is better than many in the surrounding area. This, it was said by some trustees, demonstrated how narrow and potentially misleading the grading scale is.

Hicks also noted that out of the 10 schools with the lowest number of low-income students, their average rating was a B. The 10 schools serving the highest number of low-income students had an average rating of D+.

“How is it that 94 percent of our Texas school districts can meet standard, and now with the A-F system, they’re considered failing?” she asked.

Much of the discussion centered around this confusion between what is considered passing and failing in the old system versus the new.

“If Elgin is making D’s and F’s in the new system, how are they also passing?” asked Trustee Scott Lindquist.

“If we achieved our own academic objectives, how much would that improve our ratings?” asked Board Vice President David Nix.

Hicks said it was unclear.

Cole and Roberts agreed with a concern that the new system could muddle assessments of where a district needs to improve, and instead encourage a school to “chase grades” at the expense of actual education.

“If they really put this system in to, as they say, make school accountability ‘clearer and simpler,’ well, they’ve missed the target,” Cole said. He also, however, raised the question of what would replace the A-F system.

The resolution, written by Dr. Hart following a template resolution making rounds across school districts, asks the state to “develop a community-based accountability system that empowers school districts to design their own internal systems of assessment and accountability that, while meeting general state standards, allows districts to […] meet the needs and interests of each student and their communities […].”

Cole and other board members expressed reservation to the idea that districts could act as their own evaluators. Hart, agreeing, said that the resolution should be understood as repealing only the new A-F system, and not third-party accountability.

Trustee Mike Bowles made the motion to approve the resolution. The Board voted six to one to approve, with Madison casting the only dissenting vote.

Also Monday, the Board voted unanimously to adopt a local attendance policy that would, in the future, determine how students are sifted into the different community schools that will eventually characterize the school district. Currently, LHISD has a system of single attendance schools, but with the addition of Rancho Sienna Elementary School, which will open to students in August 2017, each of three elementary campuses will house students in grades Pre-kindergarten through five. Liberty Hill Intermediate will be a sixth grade campus.

The Board reluctantly voted to accept the resignation of Board Member Shawn Roberts, who was just re-elected in May 2016 for another term in Place 6. She has served a combined eight years on the board. Her successor will complete the remaining two years of her term.

Roberts said she was resigning because her family is moving outside the school district making her ineligible for service.

“It has been my extreme pleasure to have worked with such highly talented and passionate administrators, teachers and personnel across this district. I feel honored to have served with current and past board members that have such a vision and focus for this community and clearly prioritize the needs of the students of this district while maintaining a level of integrity that is above any other.”

In other business, the Board approved the resignation of Teresa Hamlin, the librarian at the Intermediate school, and approve the employment of Myra Josey, who will teach fifth grade math.

The Board also unanimously approved a maximum price for additions and renovations to the agricultural facilities at $1,9 million New security measures, including security cameras and a chain-link fence, were explained as “less to keep people out, and more to keep the animals in.”

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