Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath visited the San Antonio Independent School District Thursday to highlight the district’s rapid improvement under the state’s academic accountability system.
The commissioner pointed to SAISD as an example of the success of the A through F rating system launched last year.
Standing in the library of SAISD’s Schenck Elementary, Morath said the school was one of just 22 high-poverty campuses statewide to move from a C rating to an A rating in one year.
“I am in awe of your work and your leadership,” Morath told Shenck’s principal. “This is an amazing accomplishment.”
Students from low-income families often start out school behind academically. Schools struggle to help them catch up amid the challenges that come from poverty, but Morath said SAISD’s jump from longstanding low performance to a B rating in just a few years is “proof positive that poverty is not destiny.”
“They will say that what happened here was a miracle but it is not a miracle. It is hard work and it can happen everywhere in the state of Texas, and San Antonio as a district is actually a good proof point as how this can happen everywhere in the state of Texas,” Morath said.
He added that SAISD gained more in the student achievement category of the accountability rating than any other large district in Texas.
“People talk about (the A through F accountability system) and why we do this. This is about continuous improvement. It’s about recognizing that we don’t live in a Utopia today. It is about will next week be better for kids than this week? Was this week better for kids than last week?”
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who joined Morath on his tour of schools Thursday, said the switch from a pass / fail accountability system to an A through F system was the most important part of the changes lawmakers made to state laws on accountability in 2013 because it creates competition and encourages schools to improve.
“This A (that Schenck received) and all those A’s that Mike talked about… all these other schools are now going to want to be there,” Patrick said. “That’s the key.”
Many school leaders believe the accountability system is flawed because it is based predominantly on test scores, which correlates with poverty.
Some educators also oppose the system because it’s punitive. Schools and districts can be closed and the local elected school board replaced if they fail state standards multiple years in a row.
The Texas Association of School Administrators and the Texas State Teachers Association said when the system launched last year that it painted an incomplete picture of a school’s quality.
In an interview Tuesday, SAISD superintendent Pedro Martinez said there are things about the system he’d like to improve, but he “was wary of the message it sends to students and teachers if you dismiss accountability.”
“It’s not perfect by far, but when you dismiss it, I think all you do is really you hurt your teachers and you hurt your children,” Martinez said. “I’d rather have them see pride for the improvements and then we’ll still advocate for where things need to be improved.”