WESLACO, RGV – IDEA Public Schools has earned three A’s and one B on the Texas Education Agency’s new A-F accountability rating system.

IDEA is a network of 51 charter schools serving nearly 30,000 students.

In August 2018, a new A-F rating system will be implemented by TEA. It was mandated by House Bill 2804 and approved during the last legislative session. The 84th Legislature also mandated that a preliminary “work in progress” report be issued in January, 2017. The 494-page report has now been sent to state legislators. It assigns every campus and district an A-F rating in four domains. A fifth domain will be added later.

Tom Torkelson

IDEA earned an ‘A’ in Domain II (Student Progress), and ‘A’ in Domain III (Closing Performance Gaps), and ‘A’ in Domain IV (Post-secondary Readiness). The ‘B’ was earned in Domain I (Student Achievement.)

“We believe this is a fair and accurate representation of how we, at IDEA, are doing,” said Tom Torkelson, CEO of IDEA Public Schools. “We received 3 As and 1 B which is aligned with our internal assessment. The B was earned in Domain I (Student Achievement).”

Torkelson pointed out that IDEA is expanding at a rate of nearly 40 percent, serving students in Texas and, in future, in other states. He said that as a majority of these students are one to two grade levels behind, “it is imperative that we continue to develop new initiatives and programs to get students on grade level more quickly to support their education to and through college.”

Torkelson said IDEA supports the new A-F Accountability Rating System and encourages more districts and schools to embrace this new accountability system and the transparency it provides families and communities.

“The ratings validate IDEA’s commitment to recruiting, hiring, developing, and retaining the best teachers and leaders so that IDEA students have incredible educators encouraging their academic growth each and every day. This is the best thing we can do for our students,” Torkelson added:

Dolores Gonzalez is chief program officer for IDEA Public Schools and a recent recipient of Education Week’s Leaders to Learn From. Gonzalez said IDEA is specifically pleased to see an ‘A’ achieved in Domain II and Domain IV. “Two years ago, IDEA launched two key initiatives—Critical Student Intervention (CSI) which focuses our ensuring our most academically at-risk students are getting twice as much reading and/or math each day and AP For All which creates a college-like environment for student beginning in 6th grade. The results in these domains are a wonderful testament to the success of these programs.”

Cornelio Gonzalez

Dr. Cornelio Gonzalez is Region One Education Service Center executive director. This region serves over 427,000 students and educators in seven counties in South Texas. The seven are Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata counties. Gonzalez said he would like to remind parents and community members that the released A-F letter designations for each of the four domains are preliminary. He cautioned against drawing conclusions.

“It is important for our communities to understand that the A-F designations for each of the four domains were intended only to provide a ‘work in progress’ report that will be presented to the legislature by January 2017 by the Texas Education Agency,” Cornelio Gonzalez said. “Additionally, and probably most significant, is that the released grade designations do not imply an overall grade of a campus or district’s performance. Overall campus and district performance ratings will not be implemented until August 2018.”

Cornelio Gonzalez said using 2015-2016 data, TEA’s ratings provide a possible letter grade that districts and campuses would have received for Domains I-IV had the A-F rating system been in place.

He cited a TEA statement saying the ratings are not intended to serve as “actual district and campus ratings that carry with them the possibility of interventions or sanctions, an inference on district and campus performance in the 2015-2016 school year, or a predictor of future district or campus performance or ratings.”

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said there were certain caveats to keep in mind when digesting the new report. “The ratings in this report are for informational purposes to meet a legislative requirement. No inferences about district or campus performance in the 2015–16 school year should be drawn from these ratings, and these ratings should not be considered predictors of future district or campus performance ratings. Campus and district ratings for 2017–18 will use different data and different indicators than were used for this report,” Morath said.

Mike Morath

Morath later issued a news release reiterating this point.

“It is important to note that the Met Standard/Improvement Required ratings issued in August 2016 and updated in November 2016 are the official academic accountability ratings for the 2015–16 school year. A similar process will be used for the 2016–17 school year,” Morath said.

“The ratings in this report are for informational purposes to meet a legislative requirement and represent work-in-progress models that are likely to change before A–F ratings become effective in August 2018. No inferences about official district or campus performance in the 2015–16 school year should be drawn from these ratings, and these ratings should not be considered predictors of future district or campus performance ratings.”

The four new domains examine several areas including student performance, student progress, achievement gaps, attendance and graduation rates, and student work in college level or advanced courses. “The system reflects a commitment to recognizing high achievement, but also recognizing the impact of highly effective educators,” according to TEA.

Four Domains

The four domains that will be considered in the ratings system are comprised of the following:
•    Domain I: Student Achievement is based on student performance on the STAAR test at the campus and district level;
•    Domain II: Student Progress measures student academic progress from one academic year to the next;
•    Domain III: Closing the Gaps addresses student achievement for a campus’ economically disadvantaged student population using cut-off scores determined by TEA; and
•    Domain IV: Postsecondary Readiness examines various factors depending on grade levels.
o    At the elementary level, Domain 4 examines a campus’ chronic absenteeism rate.
o    At the middle school level in addition to the campus’ chronic absenteeism rate, the 7-8 grade annual dropout rate is evaluated.
o    At the high school level Domain IV will be based partially on the graduation rate and partially on the percentage of students graduating with a higher-level graduation plan. But it will also examine the percentage of students who graduate ready for college, career, or the military, as evidenced by SAT/ACT/AP/IB/dual credit, an industry credential or appropriate CTE course sequence, or military enlistment. Ratings in this domain will be built so that schools will receive the same level of recognition for students who enter the military as they do for students who achieve industry-recognized credentials and as they do for students who achieve high SAT/ACT scores.

Region 1’s Gonzalez noted that a fifth domain, not included in this ratings release, will be considered in the final reporting in August 2018. Domain V is a self-assessed rating evaluating a district’s Community and Student Engagement based on parameters determined by the district.

Dr. Belinda Gorena is administrator for School Improvement, Accountability, and Compliance at Region 1. Gorena said that during Spring 2017 and through Spring 2018, advisory groups will continue to examine the methodologies used to calculate the Domain I-IV ratings.

“The methodologies for the A-F accountability system that were recently released are not the final system. The criteria and cut points, for example, are not final. The development of the new A-F accountability system is ongoing through final rule adoption in Spring 2018. It is important for all stakeholders to understand that what we are seeing with this preliminary report, as far as how a campus and district will be evaluated in each domain, will continue to be developed,” Gorena said.

In the interim, Gorena said, Region One staff will continue to focus on impacting student success and educator effectiveness in their work with school districts and charter school systems.