Waco, Temple ISDs to join lawsuit seeking to prevent TEA from retroactively changing performance ratings for last school year

WACO, Texas (KWTX) – Waco ISD and Temple ISD both plan to join several other school districts in Texas who filed a lawsuit challenging the Texas Education Agency’s decision to retroactively change performance ratings for the 2022-23 school year, KWTX has confirmed.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is named as the defendant in the petition filed by seven school districts.

“When students and teachers take the STAAR test in the spring, they deserve to know how it will be graded. It’s unfair, and quite frankly, it violates state law for TEA to change the accountability rules months later,” said Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon.

“Even today, TEA still has not given school districts the final rules explaining how the results of last spring’s tests will be measured for accountability ratings,” Kincannon said, “I am encouraged that our school board decided to join with other school districts around the state to challenge TEA’s decision to put politics ahead of student learning.”

Temple ISD Superintendent Dr. Bobby Ott, in a letter to staff, said the TEA’s move “is a clear attempt to discredit public education.”

Ott further said the measures “are consistent with an overall agenda to disparage the hard work of our students, teachers, staff.”

In his letter, Ott confirmed the Temple ISD Board of Trustees authorized TISD to enter into a lawsuit against TEA. “Temple ISD will stand up and contest these actions. The hard work and successes of our students, families and staff are worth going to the mat,” Ott wrote.

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The superintendent believes the new ratings will confuse the public. According to Ott, Temple ISD improved in 19 of 23 indicators across the district, and Temple High School improved in all 7 out of 7 measures, “but the district and campus each stand to drop a letter grade in the ratings” under the changes to accountability ratings.

“The model of ready, aim, fire when it comes to standard setting has become ready, fire, aim. Texas is better than that,” Ott said.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff school districts claim they are trying to prevent the Morath from “unlawfully lowering A–F performance ratings for the 2022–2023 school year by retroactively changing the rules.”

Morath’s move will “arbitrarily lower performance ratings for many school districts and campuses even though their performance improved,” the plaintiffs claimed, echoing Ott’s concerns.

The commissioner “is assigning A–F performance ratings to school districts and campuses for the 2022–2023 school year even though the ‘measures, methods, and procedures’ he is using to calculate those ratings were not provided to school districts at the beginning of the 2022–2023 school year as required by the statute,” the plaintiffs further argue.

Timeline to consider accountability rating changes(Megan Boyd for KWTX)

According to the petition, the Texas Education Code states the Commissioner must provide a simple and accessible document explaining “the accountability performance measures, methods, and procedures that will be applied for that school year.”

Morath, the plaintiffs argue, could comply with the legal requirement by “applying the measures, methods, and procedures that he finalized, published, and adopted on August 11, 2022.”

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Instead, the plaintiffs claim, he “intends to apply different rules and methodologies that have not yet been finalized and will only be finalized during the 2023–2024 school year.”

“If the Commissioner is allowed to retroactively apply these new methodologies,” instead of applying the accountability measures already in place, “he will irreparably harm Texas school districts by assigning performance ratings that will artificially lower these ratings even though school districts have worked hard to improve their performance,” the petition states.

KWTX was invited to a call with Commissioner Morath this summer to discuss changes to the accountability rating system. At the time, Morath was asked about the retroactive nature of the changes being considered during the same year the changes would be applied.

“It’s a great question. This is actually the way that the system has always worked from a statutory perspective. The agency goes through a rule making process, the agency publishes those rules on a proposed basis, typically, around May, and then they become adopted around July, August timeframe for final rule issuance any given year,” the commissioner said.

Morath said this has the case for the past 30 years in Texas “so there’s nothing retroactive about it.”

“The ratings are issued and the rules are applied for the years that the rules are developed. One of the things we have done to try to make sure everyone is on the same page is we started the process communicating about the refresh, in particular, I think two full school years ago,” Morath explained, “So to try and make sure everybody knew whatever changes were coming in proposed rules, we made sure to communicate about that well before the formal rule making process to be as clear as possible with schools.”

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WEB XTRA: Original Petition for Declaratory Judgment and Application for Temporary Restraining Order and Temporary Injunctive Relief

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