Texas judge blocks new state accountability ratings for schools

A Travis County judge has granted a temporary injunction in the lawsuit against Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas Education Agency, filed over the state agency’s new school district accountability ratings. The TEA is now “prohibited” from assigning the retroactive A–F performance scores for the 2022-2023 school year until after a trial that is set for February 12, 2024.

The TEA announced in June that it would be making changes to the methodologies used in its accountability ratings system for public schools, and would apply them retroactively. The “2023 A–F Refresh” was met with significant pushback from Texas school districts.

The lawsuit, which has been enjoined by over 100 school districts, states that the TEA “lowering” ratings for the 2022-2023 school year by “retroactively” making changes to the standards will “arbitrarily lower performance ratings for many school districts and campuses even though their performance improved.”

“The A–F System is also supposed to be fair by providing a system that makes it possible for all Texas school districts and campuses to receive an A rating,” the lawsuit filing states. “In fact, according to the Texas Education Agency, ideally every school district in Texas would earn an A rating under the A–F System every year.”

District Judge Catherine Mauzy found that “implementation of the A–F Accountability System for the 2022-23 school year is unlawful” and “would cause irreparable harm to … all Texas school districts.”

Mauzy did stipulate that the order does not prevent Morath from using data collected from the 2022-2023 school year to apply and obtain “federal funds to be used for low performing campuses or from working with federal authorities to facilitate distribution of these federal funds to Texas school districts.” Additionally, the judge said Morath can assign a “Not Rated” performance rating for the 2022-2023 school year.

The TEA announced a delay in the release of its 2023 A–F Accountability Ratings in September, in which the agency said that analysis for the 2021-2022 data showed “growth was more anomalous than expected, so setting baselines that partially incorporate data from the 2021-22 school year may not adequate take into account the impact of COVID-19.”

Over 230 Texas school districts signed a letter earlier this year to express their concerns about the new rating system to the TEA and Gov. Greg Abbott.

“Moving forward with the planned refresh is irresponsible as it will cause significant confusion among the community, put increased pressure on teachers and other staff who are already at their breaking point, and wrest the policy decisions of how we should hold our schools accountable away from the elected representatives of the people leaving them in the hands of unelected bureaucrats,” the letter read.

An additional letter was sent by a bipartisan group of Texas legislators to Morath stating their “concern and objection” to the new accountability rating methodologies and asked the TEA to “reconsider” its implementation of the refresh plan.

Current law permits the TEA to intervene in schools that do not meet predetermined accountability standards. During the 84th Texas Legislature, lawmakers passed HB 1842 which outlines the process by which the state may assist in the implementation of a support plan to improve school performance.

In March, Morath announced that the state would be moving forward with a takeover of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) following consecutive years of unacceptable academic ratings at Kashmere and Wheatley High School, “D” and “F” ratings at nearly 50 other schools, and an investigative report into illegal conduct on the part of the elected HISD board of trustees.

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