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In a carefully considered move, all seven members of the Athens ISD Board of Trustees voted recently to authorize the district to join a lawsuit challenging the Texas Education Agency for its lack of transparency in the calculation of statewide accountability ratings. 

In a move that stunned school districts across the state, the TEA overhauled the state’s A-F accountability ratings system this year, which includes formula changes that have not been made clear to educators. The lawsuit alleges those changes will arbitrarily lower performance ratings for many school districts and individual campuses — even when performances in key areas have actually improved. Last year, Athens ISD scored a B-plus on the state assessment.

“Imagine playing a sporting event to the best of your ability, then being told by the referees they’ll let you know how your team did, once they finish recreating the rules,” said AISD School Board President Alicea Elliott. “It’s demoralizing.”

In general, accountability scores are based on three areas of focus: “student achievement,” “school progress” and “closing the gaps.” Each of those areas are made up of multiple indicators. An example cited in the lawsuit refers to the “College, Career and Military Readiness” part of the accountability rating, stating: “A school district that should receive an A rating for this component based on the 10 current measures, methods, and procedures could receive a D rating for this component even if performance has improved.”

The lawsuit also alleges the Texas Education Agency failed to notify school districts of the changes to the rating method within the legally required timeframe.

“No one is arguing against the importance of accountability,” said AISD Superintendent Dr. Janie Sims. “We’re always striving to do better. The issue is the unfairness of being held accountable to a set of undefined rules that would likely lower our letter grade despite improved performance. Doing better but getting a lower grade isn’t fair to our students or our teachers.”

The lawsuit was originally filed on Aug. 24 by seven Texas school districts. Since then, more than 50 have joined. The lawsuit is asking a judge to temporarily stop the state from issuing ratings based on the new methods.

TEA had planned on Sept. 28 to release the 2023 accountability ratings (which reflect performance from the previous school year). However, on Sept. 12, the agency announced an approximate one-month delay.

“The postponement … will allow for a further re-examination of the baseline data used in the calculation of Progress to ensure ratings reflect the most appropriate goals for students,” the agency wrote in a press release.