By BOB PALMER
Although Jefferson ISD ranked competitively among area school districts when the Texas Education Agency revealed letter grades for the state’s schools last week, Superintendent Rob Barnwell believes Jefferson’s “C” doesn’t tell the whole story.
“First I want to say this, Jefferson ISD has a long standing tradition of excellence in academics and extra-curricular activities,” Barnwell said. “Our teachers are teaching, and our kids are learning. We have a safe, caring learning environment, and our enrollment has been increasing over the last few years, which is evident that there are folks out there who agree that being a Jefferson Bulldog is the choice for them.”
“Although we are pleased that the hard work of our staff, students, parents, and community reflect well on the Texas Education Agency’s latest attempt to find a methodology that will serve the legislature’s attempt to simplify the realities of public education into a single grade, it is not that grade that defines who we are as a district,” Barnwell declared.
The JISD superintendent said he understood the difficulty of the task assigned TEA.
“I appreciate the agency’s efforts, led by Commissioner (Mike) Morath, to consider input from around the state when they developed the rules for A-F, but their path is still misguided, and it is simply one piece of the pie,” Barnwell said. “It does not take into consideration all of the educational experiences and details that surround our efforts to provide our students a well-rounded, public education.
“It should be noted there are several flaws of this A-F system: It requires a complex set of rules and calculations to combine a multitude of disparate measures into a single, “simple” letter grade that cannot be supported or justified with explanation.”
When JISD students took the state tests in the spring, the state had not finalized its accountability standards regarding the weights to be assigned or how the different components of the test would be measured.
“So, basically, we were ‘playing a game without knowing what the rules were going to be.’” Barnwell explained.
“I’m sure there are several districts who received a ‘high’ grade that did not deserve it, just as there are districts who received ‘lower’ grades who also did not deserve it,” Barnwell observed.
Barnwell views this TEA effort at school grading with a jaundiced eye.
“This accountability system is basically useless related to the provision of worthy feedback that could be used for overall school improvement, as these sorts of systems usually align with the wealth or poverty of the students in the school,” Barnwell said. “Additionally, since all districts across the state receive varying amounts of funding per student, it doesn’t make sense to ‘grade’ them all on the same system. Some schools are simply in a position to do more if they happen to have more resources at their disposal.”
An uphill battle is not a new concept at Jefferson ISD.
“We were already beginning to implement those new strategies anyway, as we believe our students and teachers will benefit from those techniques,” Barnwell continued. “We prefer to evaluate ourselves using a holistic approach, considering not only the ever changing measures sent to us from Austin, but also the strengths and experiences of our staff, parent input, students’ needs, extra-curricular programs, co-curricular programs, food service offerings, and character development to name a few.
“Jefferson ISD is dedicated to providing learning opportunities for students and adults that encourage excellence in all we do. We are blessed with outstanding teachers and staff, involved parents, a supportive school board, and hardworking students. Our philosophy requires that we provide the resources and flexibility our teachers need to perform at their highest level, while remaining focused on doing what is best for all students. I am blessed to be part of an amazing team,” Barnwell asserted.
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