In a specially called meeting, the Spring Branch ISD (SBISD) Board of Trustees has unanimously (7-0) approved a resolution authorizing the district to join litigation against the Texas Education Agency (TEA) as an intervener.
The litigation challenges the TEA’s failure to provide the district advance notice of the accountability performance measures, methods and procedures that are being applied as part of the A-F Accountability System for the 2022-2023 school year before the start of that school year, in violation of state law.
The TEA established and oversees the statewide A-F Accountability System that evaluates the academic performance of Texas public schools and assigns districts and individual campuses letter grades A-F. For the 2022-23 school year, the TEA is proposing to substantially change the accountability ratings system in a manner that will impact every district and campus in the state. And TEA is doing so without properly informing school districts of finalized rules in advance.
In her opening remarks SBISD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jennifer Blaine noted, “I don’t know any entity that believes it is fair to change the rules of the game after the game has already been played. This is exactly what Commissioner Morath has done. It is an injustice to our schools.”
Dr. Blaine further noted, “The Texas Education Agency and Commissioner Morath, the very entity and person that is charged with supporting superintendents and school districts, is clearly making a statement that school districts are failing kids.”
“This is an attempt on the part of TEA and Commissioner Morath to join our legislators in NOT supporting public schools. Be very clear that there is a concerted effort between our commissioner and our legislators to starve public schools by withholding funding AND making it appear as though we are failing kids.”
Over the past three years, SBISD’s student achievement, as measured by the state accountability system, has increased every year. Dr. Blaine noted, “In fact, we are one of the only districts whose student achievement increased during a global pandemic and continues to do so. Clearly, we are not a school district that is failing kids.”
Trustee Minda Caesar opened the Board’s discussion by noting, “We are not afraid of accountability.” She also stated, “We hold ourselves accountable to multiple measures, including our T-2-4 goals.” Changing the rules of the game, she said, “is unconscionable.”
Under the proposed new TEA accountability rules which have yet to be finalized, the threshold to earn an A letter grade for a campus and the district in College Career Military Readiness (CCMR) is raised from 60% to 88% for the 2022-23 accountability year. However, the 88% threshold is being applied retroactively to the Class of 2022 graduates.
“We are being held accountable to a new standard which is being applied to our students who are now sophomores in college,” affirmed Dr. Blaine.
Trustee John Perez noted SBISD was ahead on this issue with the passage of SBISD’s legislative priorities in December 2022. One priority calls for monitoring the Commissioner’s Accountability “reset” and implementing weighted CCMR with the freshman class beginning in 2023-24 as opposed to retroactively weighting CCMR to the Class of 2022. A related priority affirms advocacy for TEA to provide any changes or adjustments in the accountability system or adjusted indicators prior to June 1 to afford effective planning, program adjustments and staff development.
“This vote, along with our vote last week to not give Dr. Blaine the authority to make our recapture payment for the coming year, is another resolve that we want to demonstrate to our community that we are going to fight for Spring Branch and public education,” said Trustee Lisa Alpe.
Alpe also stated, “We continue to be underfunded by those in Austin who are supposed to represent us, the citizens, and now with Commissioner Morath’s unfair accountability ratings that apply retroactively, again, we are not going to just be silent, sit here and take it. We are going to fight back on behalf of Spring Branch, our children, our teachers and staff.”
Dr. Blaine noted that over the past year and a half, superintendents across the state were asked to provide Commissioner Morath with feedback on the new accountability system. Superintendents explained that communities would not understand how rules could be changed after the fact. Nor would parents and community members understand a decline in A-F ratings when scores are actually higher than the previous year.
She said the Commissioner’s response was, “Just explain to your parents that a D is really a C, and a C is really a B, and a B is really an A. Your scores are better, but TEA will rate you lower.”
Trustee Shannon Mahan noted, “I have moved from a place of disappointment to disgust with the lack of accountability of our legislators. It’s time for us to stand up for our kids and also to show our trust in our staff.”
“As a former teacher it feels like education is under attack. It feels like a slap in the face to come back afterwards and change the measures to which we hold each other accountable. It feels underhanded and disgusting. It feels like we as a school district are caught in a game of politics right now,” said Trustee Courtney Anderson.
“All those people in Austin should be ashamed of themselves. They don’t lose, parents don’t lose, the only people who lose are the children. Going forward, they need to hear that every single day,” she added.
Board President Chris Earnest noted that this change in the accountability system is part of the broader narrative to push for vouchers.
He stated, “Our consistent message has been if we want to compete for students, make it an even playing ground. If you have to twist the narrative, change scores and change ratings after the fact, it seems to me you’re not exactly being open and honest with what you are pushing. If you have to create a false narrative to get something accomplished, then there is something else going on.”
Earnest pointed to the analogy of Major League Baseball’s use of a pitch clock this year. They tested the clock in the minor leagues and did a major communications campaign to ensure all players and fans knew the rules when it was introduced. When a strike out was called in yesterday’s Astros game because the player was not in the batter’s box in time, the outcome was the outcome because everyone knew the rules.
In a message to our local elected officials, President Earnest stated, “It’s been eye opening for us to see adults playing politics with our students. I would like to see our local representatives step up and speak out against this system as well, because there is no reasonable person I’ve talked to about this who would consider the Commissioner’s actions to be reasonable or fair. If you’re not willing to do so, it sends a pretty clear message that you’re bought and paid for and part of the narrative to push this through, which is pretty disappointing.”
“There’s no better place to be than SBISD. We’re not going to go down without fighting,” said Trustee Caroline Bennett.