DISD Spends to Dodge Accountability Reports

Dallas ISD
Dallas ISD Logo | Image by Dallas ISD

Dallas ISD was among dozens of public school systems to successfully skirt accountability by blocking the release of the latest Texas Education Agency reports last week.

Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde has long decried the updates to the accountability metrics, previously acknowledging that Dallas ISD’s student achievement scores would drop under the new metrics developed under Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, Elizalde’s district was the largest in Texas to join a lawsuit against the Texas Education Agency (TEA) seeking an injunction against the release of accountability reports for the 2022-2023 school year, which would score school systems under both the old metric and the new.

As Commissioner Morath put it, “Maintaining high expectations helps guide our efforts to improve student learning and support. The A-F system is designed to properly reflect how well our schools are meeting those high expectations, and the adjustments we are making this year will ensure it continues to serve as a tool for parents and educators to help our students.”

Dallas ISD has been struggling to meet expectations for years already, regularly coming in behind statewide averages.

According to its latest TEA accountability report for the 2021-2022 school year, only 41% of the district’s students scored at grade level on their STAAR exams. The statewide average was 48%. Furthermore, nearly 20% of Dallas ISD’s graduating Class of 2022 failed to earn a diploma in four years despite the hard work of its dedicated educators. Statewide, the on-time graduation rate was 90%.

Elizalde argued the proposed metrics are meant to make districts look bad, which would turn parents off of public schools and cause a subsequent reduction in funding.

“We all know parents do now look at these letter grades when they’re choosing where to live, so this could have an impact on property values, it could have an impact on student enrollment. Anytime you talk about student enrollment, you’re talking about dollars, because the dollars follow our students. And here we can talk about the loss of finances, decreases in property values, and, of course, more difficulty with an already strained workforce of educators,” the superintendent said, according to NBC 5.

However, despite the district adopting a record-high budget for the 2023-2024 school year — $2.5 billion — student achievement scores in Dallas ISD have made little progress. Expenditures per student have gone up virtually every year, yet Dallas ISD continues to lag behind most public school systems in terms of student achievement outcomes.

Dallas ISD’s budget is broken down by planned operating expenditures, with legal services being allotted an operating budget of roughly $5.8 million this school year, so it is unclear how much taxpayer money is being spent on avoiding the release of the district’s latest accountability report.

The Dallas Express reached out to Dallas ISD and asked how many tax dollars were spent to join the lawsuit and whether such funds would be better used to improve student achievement outcomes.

“Dallas ISD does not comment on ongoing litigation,” the district responded.

The district kicked the can a little further down the road with Thursday’s ruling, in which a Travis County judge determined that the new accountability metrics — intended to encourage school systems to keep working toward improvement — were unlawful.

The judge has blocked the release of the reports, further delaying the public’s ability to see how individual districts and campuses performed last school year.

“This ruling completely disregards the laws of this state and, for the foreseeable future, prevents any A-F performance information from being issued to help millions of parents and educators improve the lives of our students,” said the TEA in response to the decision, according to The Texas Tribune.

The TEA said it was going to appeal the judge’s ruling. Regardless, a trial date has been set for February.

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