A couple of weeks ago the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released their ratings of schools and school districts. I am the mother of two children at a school in Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest school district and the seventh largest district in the country. How did my kids’ school fare in this year’s accountability system? The school failed, receiving an “Improvement Required” rating.
Does that give me pause about sending my kids there? Not one bit and I’ll tell you why.
This past year was the first one my children spent at their elementary school. From the moment they set foot on campus, my children were accepted and loved. The physical environment of the school is welcoming, and they have a nice, new building with lots of natural light. And in a time when public school budgets are incredibly austere, my kids’ elementary school found a way to hire a PE teacher, an art teacher, a music teacher, a nurse and a social worker last year. To have all of those is incredibly rare in HISD-in fact, this elementary school was the only one within driving range of our home to offer those. It has a rooftop garden and a makerspace. And finally most amazingly, my children learned AN ENTIRE SECOND LANGUAGE last year. We literally dropped them into new classes having had almost zero exposure to Spanish and they ended the year speaking, reading and writing two languages. The progression has been amazing to watch. Their worlds are bigger and more beautiful because of their new school.
So how did such a great school end up being on the “improvement required” list? The system used to identify “failing” schools is unsound and inaccurate. It is based solely on how certain students perform on a single standardized test on a single day.
You have probably seen the meme floating around social media with the following quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” As cliché as that quote is, I find much truth in it when applied to our “accountability” system. If you judge every school by the standards of the TEA, some very successful schools will receive failing ratings not because they fail to educate, but because the accountability system demands that fish ride bicycles by making children conform to tests.
Which brings us back to my family’s experiences-no part of my kids’ experience at our school last year was a part of any accountability data.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that our school is not perfect—there is always room to grow—but how long do Texas students and teachers have to wait for an accountability system that is fair and looks at something other than narrow, flawed test scores which seem aimed to punish school communities that serve students in poverty? And, in an environment where the state legislature seems hellbent on increasing the stakes around standardized testing (see: state takeover of democratically elected school boards), schools are being asked to sacrifice increasingly more each year in the name of raising said test scores.
Lest I be accused of glossing over real problems, I am not suggesting that all public schools are perfect or even that our district has served all communities well. Quite the opposite. But if we focus only on bringing up test scores, we miss addressing the very real issues that are in front of us because test scores take up all the space.
Until this system is overhauled, I will continue to pay no mind to it and pay attention to the very clear evidence in front of me: my kids are excited to show up to school every morning and love their school. Their teachers are caring professionals. That is enough accountability for me.