East Texas school districts join federal ratings appeal
At least 10 area school districts are part of a state-level appeal aimed at overturning nine years worth of federal education ratings.
Bullard, Chapel Hill and Winona ISDs are among more than 80 school districts that filed a joint appeal against the Texas Education Agency, claiming it acted without Legislative authority and denied districts due process in its efforts to comply with federal mandates.
The appeal filed in the State Office of Administrative Hearings on Thursday calls on the TEA to withdraw its federal Adequate Yearly Progress regulations, wipe out the past nine years of federal education ratings and start AYP implementation over again, according to a news release from the Texas Association of Community Schools, which helped organized the legal action.
Adequate Yearly Progress is a federal rating system for school districts and campuses that was implemented as part of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Under the system, a certain percentage of students must pass state assessments in math and reading/English Language Arts to meet AYP. Schools and districts also must meet certain attendance and graduation rate standards.
School districts and campuses that receive certain federal funds and fail to meet AYP in the same area for consecutive years must follow certain requirements as outlined by the state.
As passing standards have increased annually, the number of school districts and campuses missing AYP has grown considerably.
For the 2011-12 ratings, 71 percent of Texas' more than 1,200 school districts missed AYP. That was up from 49 percent the year before.
Almost half of the state's more than 8,500 campuses missed the federal standard, up from 26 percent the previous year.
"These tests have become just a tool to punish school districts that are underperforming according to their standards," Ken McCraw, Texas Association of Community Schools executive director, said Thursday. "We just feel like the stakes are really, really high, and we just want to make sure if they are, the process is as fair as we can make it."
The school districts are asserting two main things. First, the school districts argue that TEA lacked statutory authority to adopt the AYP Guide each year, making it invalid since 2003.
Second, they contend the state denies school districts the right to due process when appealing AYP ratings.
"You don't have the opportunity to go and defend those (appeals)," McCraw said. "They base it on their view of the data."
Although the federal rating system has been objectionable since its start, circumstances this year made it intolerable, McCraw said, according to the news release.
The combination of a new state assessment, higher AYP standards and less funding, among other issues, made it necessary to file the appeal.
"We hate to be in this position," McCraw said, according to the news release. "But, I'm confident this is not what the Texas Legislature intended. We've got to stand up for ourselves until our representatives can address the situation."
Bullard ISD Superintendent Keith Bryant said the district decided to get involved in the appeal because it missed AYP last year, as did Bullard High School, for having too many special education students take alternative tests.
"The whole accountability system in regard to AYP is unfair and unrealistic," Bryant said. "We felt like it was our part to step up to the plate and challenge a system that we felt like was out of control.
"We don't like to be involved in litigation, but we feel like if we don't take a stand, nothing will change."
A TEA spokeswoman said the agency is reviewing the appeal, but declined to comment further. A hearing date has yet to be set.
Staff writer Kelly Gooch contributed to this report.