Your School’s Being Graded :: What Does it Mean?

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A few years ago, Texas decided to start issuing letter grades to its public schools. This means that every August, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will release A-F grades to each school district, public school, and charter school in the state of Texas. But what do these grades mean, and should you be worried if your local school (or district) received less than an A? Let’s take a look at what goes into these ratings.

This graphic from TEA shows the information that goes into determining a school’s grade. Basically, there are three components — Student Achievement, School Progress, and Closing the Gaps — but only two of these end up actually factoring into the final score. I’ll explain.

For elementary schools, Student Achievement focuses on just one area: how well students did on the standardized exams that are administered every spring (for elementary schools, this is the STAAR exam). For high schools and school districts, the Student Achievement piece also takes into account the percentage of students who graduate and the percentage of those graduates who receive some sort of advanced accomplishment (such as meeting AP/IB criteria, enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces, earning an associate’s degree while in high school, etc.).

School Progress looks at the better of two measures: Academic Growth, which refers to the number of students who improve on the reading and math STAAR exams year after year, and Relative Performance, which looks at how your school or district performed relative to similar ones. Whichever of these two scores ends up being higher becomes the final School Progress score.

Whichever score is better out of Student Achievement and School Progress ends up determining 70% of your school’s grade.

The remaining 30% is the Closing the Gaps measure. This looks at how well different populations of students (e.g., current and former special education students) performed on various components as compared to annual targets.

The end result is a number from 0 to 100, which is then converted into a letter grade using the normal cut scores (90-100 = A, 80-89 = B, etc.).

If your school’s grade is lower than you wish it was, don’t worry, yet. Schools that are trying to raise their grade usually have a school improvement plan that they are are following, and it may take a year or two to see results large enough to warrant a change in their letter grade.

Also (and possibly more importantly!), grades aren’t everything. If you’re not happy with how your child’s school was rated, go to the school. Meet with the principal, visit classrooms, and talk to teachers. Is the environment welcoming? Do students look happy and interested in what they are learning? How do they interact with their teachers? At the end of the day, you want to be comfortable with the school you send your child to, but the letter grade is just one of many factors to consider.

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