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Accountability expert discusses pitfalls of new A-F Ratings system


Accountability expert discusses pitfalls of new A-F Ratings system

John Tanner February 20, 2017 | Responsible Citizens | New Caney ISD hosted school accountability expert John Tanner Feb. 16 at the Texan Drive Stadium Community Room to discuss school district accountability systems and the new A-F rating systems for public schools.

Tanner is the founder of Test Sense, a company that engages educators and communities with ideas to reform education. He is a writer and speaker on the unintended effects of standardized testing.  

Tanner spoke to attendees from New Caney ISD, Splendora ISD and community members about the pitfalls of the new A-F accountability rating system for Texas school districts.

He began by describing the narrative of failure that has been perpetuated about public schools from organizations for the past several decades. According to Tanner, the narrative has been repeated in order to criticize public education to create support to direct public funding to charter schools or for school vouchers so students can attend private schools.  

“The narrative of school failure has been extremely profitable for some organizations and hundreds of organizations in Washington, D.C.,” said Tanner. “If public schools are failing, then every change is considered an improvement. Change for the sake of change has created great inefficiencies.”  

Tanner explained that state tests are created to rank and compare students. Rank order is typically used to identify patterns that need to be disrupted for improvement.

“The greatest mistake regarding rankings is presuming high rankings (scores) always signal quality and low rankings always signal deficiencies,” said Tanner.

Tanner also described the Schooling Dynamic, a quadrant of four areas that include Achievement, Compliance, Student, and Institution. He explained that the quadrants operate independently and that excelling in one area doesn’t equate with excelling in another.

“State-based accountability is a compliance function, not an achievement function,” he said. “You can be 100-percent compliant while ignoring (student) achievement.”

By focusing on compliance instead of achievement, the overall goal of school districts and campuses is to avoid being judged as out of compliance, according to Tanner.

“A school’s job is to make every student great,” he said.  “State-based accountability always falls in the compliance function instead of the achievement function. Compliance does not equal achievement.”

He noted that if businesses focused solely on compliance with government standards instead of achievement, they would fail.

Despite the A-F ratings, Tanner said that they will not impact colleges or universities when students apply for admission.

“There is not a college in the state that looks at STAAR testing scores,” said Tanner. “They trust the grades and judgement from teachers. Colleges and universities do not care about STAAR test scores and what the A-F rating is of a high school.”

Instead of focusing on A-F ratings, according to Tanner, school districts can focus on student excellence, teaching higher order thinking skills, critical thinking skills, and perseverance.  


Tanner encouraged the audience to get engaged in dialogues with their communities and school districts to address the A-F ratings issues.

New Caney ISD, along with several hundred other school districts across the state, recently passed a resolution calling for the repeal of state legislation implementing the A-F rating system for Texas schools and districts. The resolution calls for replacing it with community-based accountability that empowers local communities and districts to design their own internal systems of assessment and accountability.

New Caney ISD is encouraging parents and community members to engage the Texas State Legislature to voice their concerns and opinions about the A-F accountability ratings for school districts.

For more information about contacting the state legislature, visit