Frequently Asked Questions
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New for 2012
How is the 2012 FAST update different than the FAST release of 2011?
The 2012 FAST ratings now include the most recent data from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for the 2010-2011 school year. In addition, the updated report tool includes the latest TEA data, which includes 2010-2011 Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) reports and the 2011 accountability ratings. No changes have been made to the 2012 FAST methodology from 2011. Care is taken to keep the Fiscal Peers groups as consistent as possible from year to year. Fiscal Peers are used in conducting cost comparison among districts. For more information, read the FAST methodology.
Where can I find FAST data?
The latest campus and district lists, as well as lists of fiscal peers can be found in the Results section.
Results from 2011 and 2010 can be found by clicking the Previous link in the left navigation.
In addition, all data files from current and past releases are available for download at the FAST Data Download page and the Comptroller’s Open Data Center. Data from the 2010 release is found in the 2008-09 school year files; data from the 2011 release is found in the 2009-10 files. In addition, lists of fiscal peers from 2011 and 2010 are available at the FAST Data Download page.
Why are the FAST ratings for my district or campus different this year?
FAST ratings can change for a number of reasons. Factors may include relative student progress or spending, the makeup of the financial comparison group (fiscal peers), fiscal peer expenditures, and financial adjustments related to shared-service arrangements. Contact us for more information.
What is the Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST)?
The Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST) is a detailed study of Texas public school funding and its relation to academic achievement. An accompanying Web-based tool allows anyone with Internet access to see the results of the study and to use its data to compare school districts with one another on measures of spending and academic success.
Why did the Comptroller’s office do this study?
The 2009 Texas Legislature’s House Bill 3 required the Texas Comptroller’s office to conduct this study.
Texas fared better than many other states during the recent recession. Nevertheless, when the Texas Legislature convenes in January, its members will face some difficult budget decisions.
Public education is the largest single expense faced by Texas’ state and local governments. School districts that operate efficiently — achieving strong academic performance while keeping costs low — offer valuable examples for other districts.
Strategies used by the high-performing districts identified in this report could help our Texas slow the rapid growth of educational spending while ensuring that our high school graduates are ready to succeed in college or the work force.
What does this study show?
FAST can be used to identify Texas school districts that produce high achievement while maintaining cost-effective operations among their fiscal peers, based on academic and financial performance indicators developed especially for this study.
We made every effort to compare school districts and campuses on a level playing field – a difficult task, given Texas’ great size and diversity. We consulted with public education stakeholders throughout the state, and we worked with nationally-recognized experts in the field of school finance and student achievement.
FAST assesses districts and campuses based on the academic progress of their students after adjusting for factors outside a district’s control that affect student performance, such as student demographics, economic disadvantage and limited English proficiency. When comparing district and campus spending, the FAST report groups districts and campuses into sets of “fiscal peers” – up to 40 districts or campuses that operate in similar cost environments, based on factors that affect the cost of providing education, such as regional wages, district size and student characteristics.
Once a set of fiscal peers is established, each district and campus is placed into one of five “spending index” categories, from “very low” to “very high.” Academic progress scores are then matched with the spending index to create an overall FAST rating, ranging from one to five stars. This is not a top to bottom ranking of all 1,000-plus districts, because we do not think that is useful or accurate.
What is unique about this study?
No single ranking of school district performance could account for all the factors that affect student achievement and operational cost-effectiveness. FAST is unique in that it views school performance through multiple “lenses” — mechanisms that take into account of the wide variety of circumstances in which Texas districts operate, some of them beyond the schools’ control.
For this reason, this study does NOT provide a 1 to 1,200 ranking of district performance. Rather, districts and campuses are grouped into fiscal peer groups for spending comparison purposes and ranked within those groups. The average fiscal peer group size is 40.
To ensure that all school districts are rated on a level playing field, our academic progress measures involve 32 variables (including factors such as student demographics, economic disadvantage and limited English proficiency), while our spending methodology controls for eight variables (such as labor costs, enrollment and geographic size) to determine the most relevant fiscal peer groups. This method allows us to make fair and accurate appraisals of relative school district and campus success.
Is this study a ranking of every district and campus?
No. This study is not a top-to-bottom ranking of every school district or campus in Texas. Given the vast differences in funding, student characteristics and community conditions across the state, such comparisons are neither plausible nor useful.
Instead, it examines Texas school districts and campuses by two measures: academic progress, as measured by student performance over time on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests; and relative cost-effectiveness, as measured by a new, Comptroller-developed spending index.
The measure of academic progress, based on three years’ worth of test results and adjusted for a series of factors affecting student performance, can be used for statewide comparisons.
The spending index, by contrast, compares district and campus performance to that of a series of up to 40 “fiscal peers” with comparable socioeconomic and financial characteristics, to ensure a level playing field.
Our star ratings combine the measures of academic progress and cost-effectiveness to identify Texas school districts and campuses with the highest relative academic progress and lowest relative spending (with spending compared only within their fiscal peer group).
Who assisted with this study?
The FAST project involved extensive collaboration between the Comptroller’s office and recognized experts in the field both in Texas and across the United States.
The project’s methods were developed with the assistance of researchers at some of the state’s top institutions of higher education. The FAST team also received input and practical suggestions on the development of the underlying methodology from a Superintendent Advisory Committee representing district leaders from across the state, as well as an advisory group of Texas school board members. The team also met with teachers, principals and education groups to discuss and address their concerns before the results were calculated.
FAST Website and Reporting Tool
What type of information is available on the FAST website?
The FAST website offers an unprecedented wealth of information on multiple factors affecting student achievement and school spending, including both ratings and statistics from the Texas Education Agency as well as new indicators developed for this study. Users can view extensive data sets, generate reports and download the results.
What do the star ratings mean?
Districts and campuses each receive a FAST Rating between one and five stars. The rating is a quick metric that provides a snapshot of the district’s or campus’ academic progress compared to its relative spending within its fiscal peer group. Five stars represents the ideal measure. See the Executive Summary for more information about this measure.
How do I run a FAST report and what types of reports are available?
Start your FAST report by clicking on the Run a Report navigation tab on the FAST website. The first time you visit the Run a Report feature, you will be presented with a disclaimer that you will need to read before moving on to use the reporting tool. This disclaimer provides important context about the reporting tool and the care that must be taken when comparing districts or campuses that face very different challenges and opportunities. Once you have clicked that you have read and understand this disclaimer, you will be able to begin running reports.
Run a District or Campus Report
Use the FAST web reporting tool to view detailed profiles for every district and campus in the state, including:
- Unique FAST measures of academic progress and spending indexes within fiscal peer groups developed specifically for this study;
- More than 30 other measures of academic performance such as TAKS, college readiness and drop-out rates;
- More than 40 financial indicators, such as details on spending by program and by object, payroll for instructional versus non-instructional staff, revenues and fund balance; and
- More than 60 other indicators such as teacher and student demographics, teacher turnover rates, teacher education level and more.
Compare Districts or Campuses
You also can use the detailed selection criteria to compare similar districts or similar campuses with the ability to filter your choices:
- By FAST Metrics – view by FAST Rating, FAST academic progress percentile, or Spending Index
- By Characteristics – view by TEA accountability ratings, enrollment size, or district type
- By Geography – view districts or campuses by county or Education Service Center (ESC) region
- By Additional Detailed Filters – narrow your choices to select districts or campuses with similar demographics, such as ethnicity, percent economically disadvantaged, and more for the closest and most accurate comparisons.
See the Big Picture with State and Regional Data
See important summary academic and spending data on both a statewide and regional basis (by Education Service Center region) for a holistic look at how districts and campuses compare to the state and regional averages.
Print and Download
Print key results for future reference or download the data to slice and dice on your own.
I’m a parent, how can I use this site?
Parents can use the FAST site to learn more about how their child’s Texas school district or campus is faring academically, how dollars are being spent compared to relevant fiscal peer groups, how much revenue is collected, and how the district or campus compares to similar districts or campuses. Parents also can find detailed information on teacher education levels, teacher turnover rates, and student/teacher demographics. In addition, parents can learn more about the smart practices other districts are employing to be more efficient with tax dollars without sacrificing student achievement.
I’m an educator/school administrator, how can I use this site?
The FAST site is designed for educators and school administrators. The unique methodology employed for the FAST report is designed to provide a fair and level playing field for districts and campuses to compare academic progress and relative spending with an eye on self-improvement. Educators and school administrators can run detailed FAST reports to compare their district or campus with others in the state that share the same challenges and opportunities. They can compare relative spending and academic progress to emulate successful financial allocation practices. They also can read and contribute to the FAST report’s Smart Practices web page, which offers a growing list of proven cost-saving strategies by schools across the state.
I’m a state policy maker, how can I use this site?
As a large and diverse state, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for comparing all school districts and campuses. The FAST report strives to offer a level playing field for closely studying relative academic progress and spending levels to point the way toward opportunities for efficiencies. Policymakers can use the FAST site to gain an overall view of public education spending, how specific districts and campuses are balancing strong academic progress while spending less than their fiscal peers, and Smart Practices that schools across the state can consider for saving money. In addition, the FAST study includes detailed recommendations as the state looks for ways to make the most efficient use of every dollar without sacrificing strong student progress.
Where can I find….
- Drop-out data? Drop-out data is available as a separate tab under Academic reports.
- TAKS score information? TAKS information is available as a separate tab under Academic reports.
- Payroll for instructional vs. non-instructional staff? Payroll information is available under the Financial Overview tab and also under the Spending by Object tab in the Financial reports.
- Spending by program? Spending information is available as a tab under Financial reports.
- Fund balance information? Fund balance information is available as a tab under Financial reports.
- Student/teacher demographics? Demographic information for students and teachers is available under the Demographic tab.
- Teacher turnover rates? Teacher turnover rates are available under the Teacher Qualifications tab in the Demographics reports.
Where can I get technical help on using the reporting tool?
Visit the Help section of the FAST website for guides and tutorials on using the reporting tool.
Where can I learn more about all of the terms and data used in the web reporting tool?
Visit the Glossary section of the FAST website for details on the terms and data points used in the web reporting tool.
How often will this information be updated?
The data in the web reporting tool will be updated on an annual basis as new information is available from the Texas Education Agency and the analysis has been conducted for the FAST measures.
How can I download the data to slice and dice on my own?
All of the data available to view in the FAST web reporting tool can also be downloaded in the Comptroller's Open Data Center, which provides access to key raw datasets available from the Comptroller's office. In addition, limited datasets can be downloaded within the FAST web reporting tool on a page-per-page basis.
Whom do I call if I have specific questions about academics or spending for a specific district or campus?
The best contact for questions about specific district or campus academic details or spending/financial details is the district or campus itself. If you have questions about the methodology used in the FAST report for the FAST rating, academic progress measures or the spending index, you can submit them via our Questions page.
How can I provide feedback on the website and reporting tool?
Feedback on the FAST Report and the FAST website is welcome and encouraged. Visit the Talk Back page to share your thoughts and comments.
Who compiled the FAST scores/rankings?
The Comptroller’s FAST team compiled the scores with input from school officials and educational experts from throughout the state.
What is the FAST Rating?
The FAST rating combines measures of both academic progress and spending to identify school districts responsible for strong and cost-effective academic growth. Districts are assigned a rating of from one to five stars indicating their success in combining prudent spending with academic success.
What are the math and reading progress scores and the academic composite progress scores, and what do they mean?
The math and reading progress scores used in FAST are drawn from three years of results on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, Texas’ annual assessment of public school student progress. Our academic composite progress rating combines these math and reading scores into a single measure of student success that gauges student gains over time, controlling for various student characteristics that affect academic performance.
What is the spending index and what does it mean?
The FAST spending index measures relative school district spending. It compares financial data for each district to that of other districts that can be considered “fiscal peers,” in that they are of similar size, serve similar students and face similar wage requirements.
What is a fiscal peer and why is it important?
Texas school districts operate in a wide variety of “cost environments” – the socioeconomic and geographic characteristics that influence the cost of education and are often beyond the school district’s control. The FAST team evaluated financial data for each district by comparing them to other districts or campuses that can be considered “fiscal peers,” in that they operate in similar cost environments, are of similar size and serve similar students.
To identify fiscal peers, the FAST team employed a technique called propensity-score matching to identify up to 40 peers for each Texas school district, based on common cost factors such as teacher and other employee wages, enrollment size and student demographics.
Based on these comparisons, each district received a financial rating, a “spending index” ranging from very low to very high, with very low indicating the lowest relative spending in the fiscal peer group and very high representing the highest.
Where can I get more information on the detailed methodology?
For more information on the FAST methodology, go to the FAST Methodology page.
How did you select the Smart Practices featured on this site?
To identify Smart Practices, we contacted “five-star” districts identified in the FAST analysis and asked them to describe strategies and programs they credit as contributing to their success.
We also contacted other districts with strong academic performance or low spending relative to their fiscal peers. Finally, we consulted experts in the field – superintendents, school board members, staff at regional education service centers, stakeholder associations and others with knowledge of effective school district practices – who identified other school districts that might offer additional “smart practice” ideas. The Smart Practices section will continue to grow as new information is shared by districts.
How do you define a Smart Practice?
A Smart Practice must meet one or more of the following criteria:
- has proven to be an effective practice for containing, reducing or avoiding costs;
- improves the efficiency and effectiveness of educational program delivery, including demonstrated improvement in student performance;
- is estimated to produce a significant long-term return on investment for the district;
- has significantly increased purchasing power though the use of purchasing partnerships;
- has realized efficiencies through the use of shared-service arrangements with other districts; and/or
- can be implemented by other districts.
How can a district or campus share its Smart Practice for possible inclusion on this site?
We welcome such input from Texas school districts and individual campuses and encourage them to contact us.
How can the Smart Practices be useful to other districts across the state?
Most Smart Practices identified in the FAST report are not limited to the specific circumstances of a single school district – they can be used or adapted by other districts that wish to improve their cost-effectiveness and service delivery.
I’m a school/district representative and I want to improve our FAST rating. What can I do?
If you want to improve your school’s or district’s FAST rating, there are several steps you can take:
- Use the FAST reporting tool to compare your school or district with five-star schools or districts that are similar to yours in size and/or other factors such as geographic location, demographics, etc. Review their spending patterns, student achievement statistics, Texas Education Agency accountability ratings and more.
- Review the Smart Practices to see the innovative ways schools and districts across Texas are saving costs and improving student achievement. Seek ways to interact with other schools and districts through forums such as chat rooms, message boards and other social media channels.
- Form a committee of your community’s brightest and best teachers, public officials and business and education leaders. Meet once a month to discuss ways in which you can improve academic achievement in your school or district while reducing costs and review your state-mandated district and campus improvement plans to make sure they address these goals.
- Work with your regional education service center (ESC) and the Comptroller’s office to identify ways your school or district can maximize efficiencies, such as by buying in bulk. Texas’ 20 regional ESCs play an integral role in providing essential services to school districts. A list of the state’s regional ESCs and their contact information is available online.
- The Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) all have annual conferences and meetings. Contact these organizations to attend workshops on ways to improve efficiency and save money in your school or district. Visit the Texas Education Agency, Texas Association of School Administrators and Texas Association of School Boards for more information.
- TEA provides leadership, guidance and resources to help schools meet the educational needs of all students. The Comptroller’s office oversees state purchasing, awarding and managing hundreds of contracts on behalf of more than 200 state agencies as well as local governments. Both TEA and the Comptroller’s office stand ready to help your school or district identify ways to improve academic achievement and streamline purchasing. Visit the Texas Education Agency or State Purchasing for more information.
Where can I learn more about the recommendations made in the FAST Report’s Executive Summary (Part 1)?
To read about the FAST recommendations in detail, visit the Recommendations section of the Appendix.
Where can I get a printout of the FAST rating for every district or campus?
For a printable FAST overview of every school district and campus, visit the Results section to download the lists in PDF format.
Where can I learn more about public education in Texas?
To learn more about public education in Texas, visit the Texas Education Agency website.