Last week, the Texas Education Agency announced 2018-19 grades for school districts across the state. Nearly all Ellis County districts received an overall “B” rating in this year’s assessment, except one — the county’s smallest district, Milford ISD. 

For the second year in a row, the TEA has released A-F school district accountability ratings in an effort to keep watch on underperforming schools and provide accessible metrics for parents. These ratings are based on a number of factors, including STAAR test performance, college readiness, academic growth and more.

This year Milford received an overall “F” rating, with a score of 58 out of 100 according to https://txschools.gov. The score is determined by the district’s grades in the domains of student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps. 

Waxahachie, Midlothian and Ennis ISDs showed overall improvement, with higher grades in all three domains compared to 2017-18 data. Districts like Palmer, Avalon, Maypearl, Italy and Red Oak either maintained their 2017-18 rating or improved slightly. Ferris ISD showed the most significant overall improvement, earning an overall score of 83 last year compared to 67 in the 2017-18 assessment.

STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

The domain of student achievement consists of STARR testing evaluation, graduation rates and college, career and military readiness. The assessment process weighs STARR testing expectations and post-graduation preparedness more heavily — areas where Milford ISD seemed to struggle last year. Only 25 percent of students at Milford were able to meet STARR grade-level expectations in 2018-19, compared to 50 percent statewide. 

The district’s difficulty with the college, career and military readiness evaluation is a new one. In the 2017-18 assessment, Milford scored an 87, indicating that a high percentage of students met one of the following criteria: earned passing scores on college entrance exams like TSI, completed college or dual-credit classes in high school or gained an industry certification. In the 2018-19 assessment, Milford scored a 62, with only 28 percent of graduates qualified as prepared by TEA standards.

Most other Ellis County districts received a “B” rating in this domain, while Palmer and Midlothian ISDs earned an “A” rating. Ennis, Italy and Ferris ISDs showed the most improvement in this area.

SCHOOL PROGRESS

The school progress rating is measured using the better of two scores: overall academic growth or relative performance. The academic growth assessment involves a year-over-year comparison of STARR testing performance, which rewards districts for improvement. Relative performance is a bit more complicated. This metric is formulated by focusing on student achievement relative to the percentage of economically disadvantaged students. The final score earned in this category is based on a district’s student achievement relative to the achievement of other districts with similar levels of student poverty.

Milford ISD showed an improvement in academic growth in the 2018-19 assessment, but overall progress suffered because of a decline in relative performance. 

Ennis, Red Oak, Maypearl and Ferris ISDs struggled with school progress ratings in the 2017-18 assessment but fared well last year. Ennis and Ferris had the most marked improvement in this area, with Ennis rising from a “C” to an “A” rating and Ferris rising from a “D” to a “B” rating.

CLOSING THE GAPS

The final domain for the TEA’s annual assessment is closing the gap, a measurement of performance for specific groups of students in four different goal areas: academic achievement, graduation status, English language proficiency and post-graduation preparedness. The student population of a given district is broken down into groups of like-categories by race/ethnicity, special educational needs, enrollment status, English learners and disadvantaged economic status. Ratings are assessed by the percentage of goals met using these parameters.

Milford ISD — along with a number of other districts in Ellis County — struggled in this domain. While Milford received an overall score of “F” in closing the gaps, Avalon, Maypearl, Ferris and Italy ISDs received “C” ratings. Surprisingly, TEA data shows that Milford ISD did not meet any of the performance goals set for the 2018-19 school year. With a score of 30 out of 100, Milford experienced a sharp decline in this area compared to 2017-18 data.

Milford ISD superintendent Vernon Orndorff could not be reached for comment in time for publication of this article.

OVERALL PERFORMANCE

Overall ratings for the A-F accountability assessment are calculated first by determining the better score of either student achievement or school progress. This score is weighted as 70 percent of the district’s overall rating, while closing the gaps makes up only 30 percent. 

According to the Texas Tribune, the state of Texas is putting extra pressure on schools to perform well or face penalties for underachievement. Schools or districts that do not meet state standards for four or more years consecutively run the risk of being closed or taken over by the state. A new policy instituted this year by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath raises those stakes even higher by equating “D” ratings with “unacceptable” performance, a move many argue may increase the total number of districts facing penalties.

Despite criticism from many educators statewide, who contend that the A-F rating system is oversimplified and even misleading about a school or district’s quality, no new legislation was passed to modify the assessment process this year.

“These online report cards are designed to be useful tools for parents, educators and community members to see how a school or school district is doing in different areas. The report spotlights specific strengths, in addition to any challenges, that can assure the needs of all students are being met,” Morath said in an Aug. 8 blog post on the TEA website. “Moving forward, year-to-year comparisons using A-F will make it easier to determine if a district or campus is getting better, performing about the same, or still has some work to do to improve.”