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Texas Education Agency, commissioner temporarily blocked from revising school rating system

 Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath
Chris Paul
Houston Public Media
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath

A Travis County judge on Thursday temporarily blocked a revised Texas school accountability rating system in response to a lawsuit from a group of more than 100 school districts.

Seven of those districts sued Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath in August, claiming the new guidelines were released too late in violation of state law. The new standards applied to students who already graduated in 2022, before the districts knew about the change.

Since then, dozens of other districts signed on to the suit, including Fort Stockton, Pecos-Barstow-Toyah, San Elizario and Crane.

Morath and the TEA started revising the A-F accountability metrics, which gauge whether districts are successful in preparing students for life after high school, in October 2021. They published the new calculations in January of this year. The new rules raise the thresholds for top ratings.

Previously, a district in which 60% of students were considered career and college ready earned an A rating. The new policy raised it to 88%, KUT reported.

The changes are intended to reflect the last school year, meaning districts could face lower scores without having known about the criteria.

The TEA temporarily delayed the release of the 2022-23 school year accountability ratings in September, two weeks before they were initially planned to come out.

The temporary injunction, issued Thursday, prohibits Morath and anyone affiliated with him from assigning the new rating system for the 2022-23 school year until further order.

In a statement, the TEA confirmed the agency would appeal the decision.

“This ruling completely disregards the laws of this state and for the foreseeable future, prevents any A-F performance information from being issued to help millions of parents and educators improve the lives of our students,” the statement read. “The A-F system has been a positive force in Texas public education, supporting improved outcomes for students across the state, especially those most vulnerable.”

Critics of the revised policy are concerned the timing of the changes will hurt district ratings ahead of a special legislative session on school vouchers slated for October.

“There was a lot of speculation that the changes to the system and when they were going to be published was absolutely playing straight into the governor’s voucher push,” Kelsey Kling, government relations and policy analyst with Texas American Federation of Teachers, told KERA News.

The plaintiffs in the suit praised Thursday’s ruling.

“We look forward to future conversations with Commissioner Morath about how to implement the assessment and accountability system in a manner that is fair and transparent for all school districts in the State of Texas,” Kingsville ISD Superintendent Cecilia “Cissy“ Reynolds-Perez wrote in a statement.

KUT’s Becky Fogel contributed to this report from Austin.
Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Megan Cardona