Midlothian ISD superintendent of schools Dr. Lane Ledbetter typically defers to members of his board of trustees during their regularly-scheduled monthly meetings.

But on one subject — letter-grade accountability ratings issued by the Texas Education Agency for districts and campuses — Ledbetter let his opinion be known loud and clear last Monday.

Ledbetter told the board and audience that his district won’t be chasing a high letter grade from the state to sacrifice what the community wants in improvement, and won’t be basing its decisions on what marks the TEA decides to give it.

“There’s so much more to what we do as a district,” Ledbetter said. “The performance tracker that we have, we didn’t create that. That came from our community through surveys and feedback that we had. Looking at certification, SAT and ACT scores, kids participating in pre-AP and AP courses and those types of things, those are really the measures that we look at as a district moving forward.”

Ledbetter said he is excited by the direction the district has been going since he became superintendent and is ready to address any challenges his district faces.

“When you get to the secondary level, the high schools especially, they start looking more at the college and career readiness pieces, and we’ve already done a lot of things moving forward with that over the last two or three years,” he said. “Those are the things that we feel like are quality and those things are already identified in that performance tracker. Those are things we’ve been looking at for the last four years.

“We have had the same goals over the last four or five years based on that strategic plan. We have the measures that have been identified by the staff. I don’t think we have to realign what our goals are. Our goals and measures have been defined by this community, and that’s what were working for.”

Ledbetter said a letter grade for a school involves politics at the expense of accurate evaluation.

“There’s so many things involved with that,” he said. “I believe that in the elementary, the majority of the rating was based off of STAAR. As much as the state wants to say we have all of these other measures playing into it, it’s based off of … the one-shot multiple-choice test they take.”

Deputy superintendent Judy Walling said Midlothian ISD compares favorably with its peers and exceeded the state results in many areas.

Walling noted that 25 percent of the districts rated received an “A,” while 56 percent received a “B.” On campus accountability ratings, about 20 percent were “A” and 37 percent were “B” with just under 25 percent receiving a “C.”

This is the first year that the TEA has handed out letter grades for individual campuses. Last year was the first year that school districts as a whole were assigned a letter grade.

Seventy percent of the letter grade was determined by student achievement, Walling said, and the remaining 30 percent came from closing gaps in previous evaluations, which rewards districts that came up short last time.

A big factor in how districts performed is how students tested on the STAAR exam last spring. Top-scoring students tested out at a “masters” level, which was key to a district’s or campus’s overall numbers.

“We want our students to be at the masters level,” Walling said. “Because that means they are prepared, they know the coursework and they’re ready to go on next year and be successful without any support.”

In the areas the district was strongest in, all tested core areas exceeded the state average — reading, math, social studies and science. However, Walling pointed out areas where there were opportunities to improve.

“The masters level … in reading across the district in seventh grade continues to struggle,” Walling said. “Reading and writing at the masters level falls lower than expected compared to other subject areas.”

Walling also said more than 120 MHS students substituted their PSAT results for their English EOC, and doing so resulted in “meets” instead of “masters” for the TEA numbers — which would likely have been “masters” otherwise.

“That loophole has been closed and students will no longer be able to substitute,” Walling told the board.

Writing lags at the masters level, and Algebra I still lags the state and region despite an increase, Walling added.

In response, Walling said the district has adopted a new reading and writing resource in grades K-8 for the first time since 2010, and new instructional material for the high school grades will be adopted in English, language arts and reading.

Conferencing with students, a district-wide meeting to calibrate student writing, an increase in special-education support, a response-to-education teacher on every elementary campus and a shift to personalized learning were all steps Walling told the board would be taken to improve test results.

“If we’re going to personalize instruction for our students, we need to personalize (professional development} for our teachers as well,” Walling said.

Walling said results for any school in the state of Texas can be found at https://texas-schools.org.

Ledbetter said the opening of the new Dieterich Middle School and MILE in the fall of 2020 will be models for what will be happening on all of the MISD campuses.

“If we want to get ‘A’ ratings, and that’s what this board decides you want to focus on, we can get ‘A’ ratings,” he said. “We can play the game of passing a test. We can do test prep every day and we can play that game and get there.

“Or we can prepare our kids for their future, and a future that we don’t even know what it’s going to look like. We can teach them to critically think and problem solve, and do all the things that are going to be essential on our campuses.”