Return to Headlines

Hutto ISD joins lawsuit challenging TEA Accountability System

SEPTEMBER 20, 2023 — The Hutto ISD Board of Trustees has unanimously voted to adopt a resolution to join dozens of other school districts in taking legal action against the Texas Education Agency and the commissioner of education over implementation failures related to the state’s Accountability Rating System.

The lawsuit focuses on substantial changes made to the rating system’s criteria and the harm the new criteria and methods used by the system would cause students, Hutto ISD staff members, families and the community.

Campuses are rated annually using an A-F letter grade as part of a system that relies heavily on performance measures, methods and procedures rooted in students’ performance on the state’s annual standardized assessment, STAAR. TEA and Commissioner of Education Mike Morath have yet to solidify the rules of methodologies, as required by law, that will be used to evaluate public schools for the 2022-23 or 2023-24 school years. It’s important to note that this score is derived from the preceding year and is also expected to be influenced by recent changes.

“Hutto ISD, like all districts in Texas, firmly believes in a system of accountability—not only for our staff, but our students. We expect to meet and exceed high standards in our pursuit to provide students with a premier public education,” said Hutto ISD Superintendent Dr. Raúl Peña. “However, it is imperative that we are aware of the state’s expectations and guidelines ahead of time. Right now, the state’s new A-F rating system is to be applied retroactively after our students have been administered the annual STAAR test and a new school year has already begun.

“This eleventh-hour change to the accountability system does not reflect our district’s most recent improvements, which show Hutto ISD students currently outperforming the state in many areas. Simply put, our test scores have gone up, but under the new system our ratings are projected to decrease. The decision to modify these standards after our students have completed their assessments is both unfair and unjust.”

The lawsuit alleges that the commissioner failed to provide school districts with “a document in a simple, accessible format that explains the accountability performance measures, methods, and procedures that will be applied” for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years. The multi-district lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the commissioner from issuing new ratings using the retroactively applied, yet-to-be-finalized measures.

“Accountability is an important aspect for a school district. However, the new system being implemented without advanced notice will give the false appearance that schools across the state—including Hutto ISD—are declining,” said Amy English, Vice President of Hutto ISD’s Board of Trustees. “Moving the goalpost after the game is over is unfair to our students and staff that have worked hard in preparing for the standardized tests.

“Our district’s achievements amount to more than just test scores, but it’s imperative that we fight for the kids in Hutto ISD as well as the 5.4 million students across the state and their teachers. We want to send a message that we will not allow our children to be used as political pawns so that school vouchers can be pushed upon us.”

Texas law dictates that TEA must present the accountability rating system and grading criteria to Texas school districts before the grading year begins. The statute also requires that TEA release the prior year’s accountability ratings by August 15. Not only did TEA not release the rating system in the 2022-23 school year, but school districts have been informed that TEA did not plan to release the official ratings until September 26. Last week, TEA announced that it is holding accountability ratings for an additional month beyond September 26 to re-evaluate some scoring areas.

Hutto ISD supports implementing increased standards; however, districts should receive adequate notice of how the standards will be applied. The coalition seeks to postpone the implementation of this new system until at least next year and to retain the district’s present rating for the current year.

“Accountability is important, yet complex. It is unwavering. Keeping up with the ever-changing accountability system is and will continue to be exhausting for public educators,” said Dr. Peña.