The new education commissioner of the Texas school system’s over 1,200 districts is on record with plans of doing away with a statewide ratings formula that critics and educators alike term as “an all-or-nothing” doctrine that relies far too heavily on such variables as state-mandated tests and general performance.
Instead, Michael Williams, the first African-American to ever be so appointed, told the Houston Chronicle he envisions fully implementing a program that hands out system grades placing a greater emphasis on closing the states’ long-lingering, considered by many to be crippling to poor and minority students.
Just last March, districts from all across the state came together to draft and sign a resolution blasting testing practices adopted by the Texas Association of School Administrators as nothing more than “high-stakes tests strangling our public schools.” Upon his retirement and Williams’ appointment, even previous commissioner Robert Scott admitted the statewide testing system had become a “perversion” from its original intent.
“In a state that is 60 percent economically disadvantaged and 60 percent black and brown, we’ve got to be concerned about closing that racial achievement gap because indeed our demographics are changing,” said Williams, the son of two former school teachers. “I’m confident we can meet the growing challenge and better accountability should encourage improvement.”
According to the Texas Education Agency, currently 92 percent of all white students graduated on time in 2011, compared to 82 percent of Latinos and 81 percent of blacks. Of the pool of students deemed economically disadvantaged, the percentage looms at around 84 percent.
Besides the achievement gap, the new formula incorporates a post-high school readiness measure seemingly devised to weigh young adulthood preparedness. Just what barometers or processes slated to be used to gauge such readiness remain to be seen.
During his Chronicle interview, Williams would not specify whether schools will be given number scores, letter grades or new titles upon receiving grades, only stressing that current categories of “exemplary,” “recognized,” “acceptable,” or “unacceptable” will be soon be passé. Schools are scheduled to receive their first grades under the new guidelines in early August.
As a Houston Independent School District board member, Harvin Moore has made clear his willingness to accept the changes in focus and priority. He just hopes the ratings carry more teeth than those currently on the books.