Burnet CISD wants state to repeal 'A-F'

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

Burnet Bulletin

The Burnet Consolidated Independent School District joined more than 200 other Texas school districts Monday night when the Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution calling for the repeal of the new A-F school rating system that goes into effect next year.

BCISD Superintendent Keith McBurnett asked the board to consider the resolution after the Texas Education Agency released its preliminary scores for school districts late last month. The A-F system does not become official until August 2018, but the TEA was required to report on the current progress of school districts using the criteria of the newly established rating system and data culled from the most recent academic testing by the schools.

While the academic rating system currently in use has Burnet CISD rated at the highest level of achievement, “Met Standard,” the district received several undesirable grades in the four domains reported in the A-F system — a “D” in student achievement, “F”  in student progress, “D” in closing performance gaps and “C” in postsecondary readiness.

“We are clearly not satisfied with the grades we received and we are not satisfied with the system that produced these grades,” McBurnett said. “We are not opposed to a fair and transparent accountability system, but in this yet to be finalized system, it is difficult to know what a letter grade means and the system doesn't inform a district about what is needed to improve the grade. That is why more than 200 school districts to date have called for the state to repeal the A-F system.”

McBurnett said of the four domains the district is being rated in, three have to do with the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests, which are administered on a given day. He noted that last year, a glitch in online testing by the company administering the STAAR impacted more than 250 Burnet High School students.

The current Met Standard rating took into consideration the issues faced by school districts like Burnet CISD due to the testing glitches, but the A-F rating makes no such distinction, McBurnett said.

“Should Burnet CISD be getting the poor grade in student achievement or should ETS (Educational Testing Service) receive it for their poor testing system?” McBurnett asked.

McBurnett also pointed out that there are other indicators of the district's success in educating and preparing its students. HEB's Excellence in Education Awards named Burnet CISD the Small School District of the Year in 2015. And just recently, the district was named one of 433 school districts in the United States and Canada and one of just 22 school districts in Texas honored by the College Board with placement on the seventh annual Advanced Placement (AP) District Honor Roll.

The resolution approved Monday night calls on the state “to repeal the rating system utilizing A through F grades for schools and districts and develop a community-based accountability system that empowers school districts to design their own internal systems of assessment and accountability that, while meeting general state standards, allows districts to innovate and customize curriculum and instruction to meet the needs and interests of each student and their communities.”

In other action Monday night, the board voted unanimously to approve the district's intent to apply for designation as a District of Innovation, which would allow the district to use flexibility generated by House Bill 1842 to take more local control of education.

Director of Secondary Curriculum Jim Connor told board members the District Advisory Committee met to discuss the District of Innovation concept and recommended six areas the district will seek exemptions from the state that will allow them more flexibility. These areas include exemptions to the minimum attendance required to earn class credit; the first day of instruction; teacher certification; the designation of a campus behavior coordinator; extension of probationary contracts to new district teachers and appraisal of teaching staff.

State law requires the first day of instruction start no earlier than the fourth Monday in August, but doing so this year would put the end of school for BCISD into June. Applying for an exemption as a District of Innovation would allow BCISD to start school earlier and still finish the school year at the end of May, Connor said.

And by getting the ability to grant local teacher certifications, the district could employ a certified teacher highly qualified in one area, such as grades K-4, to teach a similar area in which he or she is not considered “highly qualified,” such as grades 5-6, without requiring additional certification from the state, Connor added.

The Board of Trustees had to formally approve its intent to apply for this designation and now the district will work to get approval for these exemptions with hopes of seeing them in place before the start of the 2017-18 school year.

Also, the board unanimously approved six new class offerings at Burnet High School for the next academic year. These include an AVID IV class, Algebraic Reasoning, Chinese I, Aerospace Engineering, Biomedical Interventions and Geometry in Construction. No new faculty will be needed to provide these courses, Connor said.

The trustees also called for a Saturday, May 6, school board election with the filing period for candidates to begin today, Jan. 18. The places on the board up for election are District 3, currently held by Craig Barefoot, and District 7, held by Charles Williams, who was appointed last month to fill out the remaining term of Jim Luther Jr. Williams was officially sworn in at Monday night's meeting.

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