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New A-F school grades good for taxpayers, parents

August 9, 2018

The letter grades are coming soon, and some of the recipients are nervous, hoping they don’t get a D — or the dreaded F. Are we talking about Texas students? In a sense, yes. They’ve faced the A-through-F scale since the days that students rode to one-room schools in horse-drawn wagons. Now, however, the same system will apply to their school districts.

The Texas Education Agency is fine-tuning the new system and preparing to release the grades next Wednesday. For the first time, taxpayers and parents will have a simple, non-bureaucratic way to gauge the performance of each public school district.

It’s not often that we praise state government for being logical and straightforward. In this space yesterday, we complained about obscure traffic laws.

But there’s nothing complex or confusing about the A-through-F scale. It’s instantly understandable, and frankly rare for a profession that often wallows in jargon, like calling a library a “resource center.”

The only downside is that many educators don’t like the new grading system. They think taxpayers and parents will have an unfair impression of districts with bad grades.

They will — but that’s how life works. In education, just like business or sports, at some point you have to meet fair standards or explain why you can’t. The best way to avoid pushback over a D or F is to not get that letter grade in the first place.

It goes without saying that the grading system must be based on fair criteria. As it stands now, grades are mostly based on student performance on standardized tests and any improvement from the previous year. Other factors are graduation preparation and student performance in smaller groups, including special education.

This year, only school districts will receive the letter grades. Individual campuses will still be rated under the outgoing system of “met improvement” or “improvement required.”

Those standards seem fair, but TEA officials should not hesitate to tweak them as they get feedback from educators. All Texans should remember that kids from stable, prosperous backgrounds will usually do better in school than kids with rougher home lives. Teachers will tend to prefer schools with students who embrace learning more. But all kids can learn, and plenty of at-risk students have gone on to successful careers.

Texas teachers must work with the students they have sitting before them and do whatever is necessary to help them succeed. Any district with a D or F rating needs major changes, and no one should be satisfied with a C.. We want our children to get A’s and B’s, and we can seek the same from the schools they attend.

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