Trista Bishop Watt, Manager of Policy
The following testimony against House Bill 4402 was delivered to the House Public Education Committee on April 20, 2023.
Dear Chairman Buckley and House Public Education Committee Members:
Good Reason Houston champions a bold, city-wide vision that every child in every neighborhood, excels in a world-class public school and thrives in the Houston of tomorrow. Our work requires a robust assessment and accountability system in order to ensure we are allocating resources where they are most needed and effectively evaluating our impact on school quality.
For this reason, we respectfully submit our concerns with the changes proposed in HB 4402. While we support the adoption of through-year assessments, which allow districts to more effectively monitor progress throughout the year, we regretfully must oppose the proposed changes to accountability calculations.
Parents, students, and communities deserve to know how academically effective our public schools are so they can hold systems accountable for student learning. The current A-F accountability system was structured to clearly differentiate school quality for academic outcomes. Students who attend an A- or B-rated school are 1.8 times more likely to be reading on grade level and 2.7 times more likely to be college ready by graduation than students attending D- and F-rated schools.
Because of our assessment and accountability system, we are able to see how our kids in Houston are learning and where there are gaps in need of additional resources. In the Houston region, around 10% of our schools are D- and F-rated, higher than the state average of 6%. Looking at student achievement alone, 45% (nearly half) are D- and F-rated. That represents 225,291 students who attend a school that needs additional support so that they can achieve on the level that Texas recognizes as basic proficiency.
This is a concerning picture, but because we have an accountability system that solely focuses on student academic outcomes, we have a clear idea of how our students are doing academically. By shining a light on this data, parents and community members are empowered to advocate for much needed resources and hold systems accountable for student learning. School districts and organizations like ours are able to effectively monitor progress and ensure we are investing resources in interventions that support student growth.
We do recognize the additional indicators added by HB 4402 are important. We want our kids to thrive in extracurricular activities and our parents to be happy with their child’s school. However, these indicators are not academic outcomes for students. Schools can be recognized and rewarded for areas of excellence outside core academic functions through designations or badges added to school report cards. In fact, we would love to work collaboratively to determine the best way to implement a functional system for parents to provide feedback regarding their experience with public school campuses. However, the A-F letter grade must be reserved for the most crucial function of public schools: ensuring students can read, write, and do math on grade level.
The more separate indicators are added to any overall measure, the harder it is to parse how a campus is doing in any given area. By conflating academic outcomes with other factors, HB 4402 creates a system where parents and community members would have trouble untangling how prepared students are academically. Considering only 44% of students in Houston (52% in Texas) are reading on grade level by 3rd grade, a focus on academic accountability must remain undiluted.
For the foregoing reasons, we respectfully oppose HB 4402. We recognize the intent behind the bill, but feel the best path forward for Texas students is maintaining a robust assessment and accountability system.