District joins accountability lawsuit against Texas Education Agency

Coppell ISD joins several school districts in a lawsuit against the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The TEA commissioner failed to detail the performance, methods and procedures, according to the A-F accountability system, that will be used to rate schools prior to the school year. (Sri Achanta )


On Sept. 12, Coppell ISD Board of Trustees held a special meeting to discuss the district’s administration recommendation to join an accountability lawsuit. In a 7-0 vote, the Board approved the decision to join several school districts across the state in a lawsuit against the Texas Education Agency (TEA). 

According to the Board’s resolution,  TEA Commissioner Mike Morath failed to provide school districts with a document detailing the “performance measures, methods and procedures” used to rate schools for both the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years. 

This began primarily with a redesign of the State of Texas Academic Assessment of Readiness (STAAR) test, which was brought to the attention of the Board in February, after over half of the 2022-23 school year had taken place. By this time, many of the STAAR tests were distributed to schools yet teachers were still unaware of the structure and content of the questions. 

CISD chief communications officer Angela Brown turned to an analogy to illustrate the repercussions of this matter. She compared it to a football game, where the rules, scoring and criteria were determined after the game was over. 

“Now scale that up to the size of an entire state progressing through the whole season before learning about the criteria for the game,” Brown said. “That is what many school districts across the state have dealt with.”

On March 6, CISD was one of 256 school districts to sign a letter to the commissioner stating that they did not know about the change in the STAAR test, with students scheduled to start testing in April. The letter requested the commissioner to essentially put the redesign “on pause,” but the request of the school districts was not met.

Five years ago, when the STAAR test went through a previous redesign, schools were given a notice one year prior to the changes being enforced. Although this is not required by law, the commissioner stated that the A-F accountability system should be revised every five years. 

The A-F accountability system rates schools and assigns a letter grade to districts and campuses. This system is organized into three domains and relies heavily on schools’ performances on the STAAR test as well as student achievement. This is separated into college, career and military readiness (CCMR), and graduation rate. According to Brown, the commissioner is yet to finalize the methodologies that will be used to rank schools for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years, which is against the law. 

Although most schools are well into the 2023-24 school year, the non-finalized accountability measures are still to be implemented for the completed 2022-23 school year, which will take into account many seniors that have since graduated from high school. 

“The lawsuit is about holding the entities who hold us accountable, accountable,” trustee Leigh Walker said. “CISD is not afraid of accountability; we do not shirk away from that impact, we embrace it.”

According to trustee Anthony Hill, this lawsuit is mainly a result of a lack of information and transparency, which is supposed to be the purpose of the A-F system. 

“It is not about the letter grade, but about the effects,” Hill said. 

In order to approach the accountability system holistically, CISD has implemented a Community Based Accountability System (CBAS), which allows all stakeholders and the community to be informed of all areas of accountability beyond the A-F system.

CBAS is based upon the core values of CISD (great teaching, redefining success, collective engagement and authentic relationships) and seeks to measure the growth and continuous improvement of learners beyond the STAAR test results and identify areas for improvement. 

However, based on the changes to the accountability measures, some campuses could decline by one or more letter grades, regardless of success in student achievement. 

“The reality is, we have been asking TEA to do the right thing for over one year now,” trustee Nichole Bentley said. “We have stood up for what is right in public education even if it doesn’t affect us negatively as much as it does others.”

During the Sept. 12 meeting, trustee Manish Sethi referenced a rumor, though it has not been confirmed, that there is speculation that only districts participating in the lawsuit will receive benefits, if any. 

According to a press release by CISD Board, the total cost for the lawsuit will be distributed evenly among all the school districts who choose to participate. The estimated $10,000 will be absorbed by the current CISD budget.  

“You have to stand up and say what is right and why it is right,” Hill said. “This is not about whether you win or lose, it is about what is right or wrong.”

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Originally posted 2023-10-12 19:59:30.