TEA offers educators access to sample STAAR parent portal

tea-logo-header-2The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released information this week for educators interested in better understanding the agency’s website, TexasAssessment.com, which aims to provide more information on the STAAR test to parents and educators.

In addition to accessing the website through the teacher and analytical portals, educators now have the opportunity to see aspects of the site from a parent’s point of view, a perspective TEA hopes will aid educators as they converse with parents who might have questions about the Twebsite or student/parent portal.

Educators can utilize these sample parent credentials to log on to the student/parent portal and navigate through examples of what family members and students experience when visiting the site. The sample credentials offer educators access to example results for multiple grades and subjects. This list of frequently asked questions by parents also aims to help educators prepare for conversations with parents regarding the new website and portal.

Visit TexasAssessments.com today for more.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 15, 2017

Catch up on the latest education news this week from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:

 


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter snapped a photo with Rikki Bonet, an ATPE member serving on the SBOE Long-Range Plan Steering Committee, Sept. 12, 2017.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter visited with Rikki Bonet, an ATPE member serving on the SBOE Long-Range Plan Steering Committee, Sept. 12, 2017.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended all the proceedings and reported on them for our blog here and here. The board took steps to implement changes made by legislation earlier this year, such as a bill to allow certain computer science courses to satisfy other core curriculum requirements. SBOE members also heard an update from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath about the impacts of Hurricane Harvey on schools and students.

One day prior to the board’s meetings, the SBOE’s new Long-Range Plan Steering Committee held its first meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Read about the committee and its initial discussions in this blog post from earlier this week.

 


As Texans deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has directed some legislative committees to study issues connected to the deadly storm. In new hurricane-related interim charges released this week, Speaker Straus is directing the House Committees on Appropriations, Natural Resources, and Public Education to hold hearings to study and make recommendations to help the state deal with the effects of the storm. The Public Education Committee will discuss the issues of displaced students, financial losses for schools, and avoiding punitive accountability outcomes as a result of the storm. For more on the interim charges, check out this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

ATPE members are reminded of resources available on our Hurricane Harvey page. Find additional hurricane-related information on the TEA website here.

 


This week ATPE learned of an e-mail phishing scam that is targeting educators around the state. ATPE and the Texas Education Agency both issued warnings on Sept. 14, 2017, urging educators not to respond to the fraudulent emails, which falsely claim to be generated by ATPE and TEA. The emails are geared toward collecting sensitive, personal information from individual teachers, and they claim to offer participants a chance to attend an expense-paid workshop hosted by ATPE and TEA, which does not exist. The agency quickly issued a press release warning that the emails are illegitimate and not being sent by TEA or ATPE. For our part, ATPE sent a warning out to all of our members in yesterday’s e-newsletter. Read TEA’s press release here.

 


 

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SBOE wraps quiet September meeting

The State Board of Education met Friday to conclude its September meeting in Austin. After recognizing the 2017 Heroes for Children award recipients, the board heard public comments and took up the agenda.

The board swiftly moved though items from the Committee on Instruction that removed duplicative rules regarding certain science classes and an amendment changing the amount of credit offered for extended practicum in fashion design. Members approved a measure from the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund to update the rule to comply with the Texas Tax Code regarding the definitions used for tax collections to calculate state aid under the Texas Education Code.

The board approved an item from the Committee on School Initiatives that would expand the commissioner’s ability to dismiss or decline to recertify hearing examiners, as well as an item that clarifies policies regarding late renewals of educator certifications. The board took no action on an item that would make adjustments to the qualifications for educators whose degree was earned outside the United States.

Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) updated the board on the first meeting of the Long-Range Plan Steering Committee, which Cargill chairs. The 18-member committee met Tuesday for what Cargill described as a “great meeting,” in which attendees received a presentation by the state demographer. Cargill noted that according to the demographer, 86 percent of the state’s population lives along the I-35 corridor or east of it. After brainstorming ideas for main topics on which to focus, the committee is now working to narrow its list down to four items.

Before the board adjourned, member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) thanked Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff for creating a Spanish language support group in response to the myriad issues facing bilingual speakers in the public school system.

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Speaker Straus issues interim charges on Hurricane Harvey

Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) issued five interim charges today related to Hurricane Harvey. He tasked three House committees, including the House Committee on Public Education, with studying issues related to the recent hurricane as well as preparations for future natural disasters. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) plans to hold a public hearing on the charges in the coming weeks.

The five interim charges:

  • Committee on Appropriations: Examine the use of federal funds by state agencies responding to the effects of Harvey and identify opportunities to maximize the use of federal funds to reduce the impact of future natural disasters. Also identify the need for state resources to respond to Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts, as well as opportunities for state investment in infrastructure projects that will reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
  • Committee on Public Education: Determine, to the extent possible, the scope of financial losses, including facilities, that resulted from Harvey. Recommend possible state actions, such as changes to student counts or property valuation, to mitigate any negative impact on districts and ensure governance structures and parameters allow for effective responses.
  • Committee on Public Education: Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Harvey and its aftermath.
  • Committee on Public Education: Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.
  • Committee on Natural Resources: Examine the following issues within the committee’s jurisdiction regarding Harvey and flooding in general: the role of regional entities in developing projects to control flooding, both through new infrastructure and enhancing existing infrastructure; mitigation efforts that would reduce the impact of future flood events, and strategies to fund those efforts; and the response of public entities that own or operate dams to large-scale rain events, including how such entities make decisions regarding dam and reservoir operations during such events, coordinate with state and local emergency management officials, and communicate with the public.

Speaker Straus plans to release a full list of interim charges, which will include additional charges related to Hurricane Harvey, in the next couple of months. His full press release on the announcement can be read here.

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Commissioner: 1.4 million students affected by Harvey

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) kicked off its September meeting Wednesday with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner Mike Morath regarding the agency’s response to Hurricane Harvey.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath updates State Board of Education members on Hurricane Harvey response.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath updates State Board of Education members on Hurricane Harvey response.

The commissioner described the storm that smashed into the Coastal Bend as a category four hurricane as “pretty nasty.” More than 1.4 million students (roughly 1 in 4) attend school in one of the 58 counties designated under Governor Greg Abbott’s (R-Texas) state disaster declaration.

According to the agency, a majority of those districts have reopened or will soon reopen. Districts facing longer delays include Ingleside, Taft, Aransas County, Aransas Pass and Port Aransas in Education Service Center (ESC) Region 2 (Corpus Christi). In Region 3 (Victoria), Refugio ISD remains closed and Woodsboro ISD could possibly reopen by September 18. Houston ISD in Region 4 is implementing a rolling start for campuses, and Sheldon ISD is looking to reopen September 18. Finally, eight districts in Region 5 (Beaumont) are still determining potential start dates.

Commissioner Morath said the agency has been “feverishly busy” trying to support affected districts and charters, noting the invaluable role played by the education service centers play. The commissioner has conducted daily “war room” sessions with agency staff, and waived a number of state education laws under the agency’s purview. Those include a waiver for missed instructional days, adjustments for average daily attendance (ADA), submitting crisis code data and changing the PEIMS school-start window, reducing the minimum days of service and extending various deadlines. The commissioner has met with superintendents in Houston and is scheduled to meet with superintendents in Corpus Christi, Victoria and Beaumont.

Morath called Governor Abbott’s recovery efforts “quite remarkable,” and credited the governor with negotiating fund matching that would enable the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover 90 percent of recovery costs, leaving local districts responsible for the remaining ten percent. Between FEMA funds and insurance, the commissioner suggested districts and charters should be able to cover recovery costs without any additional money out of pocket. That said, Morath noted the storm “was not without cost,” and praised those who contributed “many small acts of heroism” to save lives in immediate aftermath.

In Houston, Morath said 35-40 schools quickly became makeshift shelters for storm victims. Many educators became first responders, including a Spring Branch teacher and ATPE member who joined the “Cajun Navy” rescue efforts. Praising the work of educators, Morath said, “What we saw was public service on an epic scale.”

The agency has set up a hotline (512-463-9603) for parents who aren’t sure what to do with their children after being displaced by the storm. Additionally, staff advised the board that approximately 340 individuals were scheduled to take the high school equivalency exam but were prevented from doing so due to the storm. Because board rules do not allow the state to provide refunds, the agency has asked test vendors to waive the administrative fee for those retaking the test. Agency staff advised that this would accomplish the same goal without requiring the board to amend rules.

Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) noted that the College Board is waiving SAT fees for those affected by the storm. Cargill also raised a question about how the storm would affect the schedule for STAAR test administration. The commissioner indicated that the agency is unable to alter the schedule, therefore the STAAR will be administered according to the normal timeline.

Responding to a question from Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth), Morath indicated that the agency has broad authority to tap additional funds in response to a national disaster. Such a move could be done with or without dipping into the economic stabilization fund (ESF), often called the “rainy day fund.” Morath suggested tapping emergency funds could be done without the need for a special session, although it could present legislators with budget challenges in the next legislative session.

Following the commissioner’s update, the board reviewed statutory changes from bills passed during the 85th legislative session, including legislation consolidating the instructional materials allotment into the instructional materials and technology allotment and ordering the creation of an instructional materials web portal. The legislature also expanded the board’s authority to approve or decline to endorse textbooks based upon suitability for the subject and grade level.

Members breezed through a new vendor’s proposal for a Mexican-American studies textbook, after a previous vendor’s offering generated controversy and resulted in the board declining to endorse the book. The board opened up discussions on aligning the education code to accommodate new courses created in statute by the 85th Texas Legislature, including advanced computer science, cybersecurity, and interaction with law enforcement officers. Prompted by an individual who spoke during public testimony, members engaged in a spirited discussion about the relative merits of personal financial literacy and economics. Some members indicated they would be open to a future discussion that would ponder placing more emphasis on personal financial literacy than on economics – which is among the courses eligible for college credit.

The governor signed legislation in May that removes sequencing requirements for English and math. Senate Bill (SB) 826 eliminated the requirement that advanced English and math courses be taken only after the completion of English I, English II, English III, Algebra I and geometry as appropriate. The legislature also passed legislation that will allow certain computer science courses to satisfy the requirement for students to take a language other than English. The board devoted significant discussion time Wednesday contemplating how to credit computer science courses that may satisfy either a language or a math requirement, and whether such courses should be allowed to count as satisfying both requirements. The board will face several such decisions over the next few months as it determines specifically how to enact certain legislative changes.

The board heard from representatives from the International Baccalaureate program Wednesday afternoon who voiced concern about a lack of PEIMS codes for IB courses. The conversation will continue over the next few meetings in which the board will likely undertake a deeper dive into IB coursework.

The meeting concluded with an update on the review process for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Members received an updated cycle for review and revision, and a recommendation from agency staff that the board delay the upcoming social studies TEKS review by one meeting in order to accommodate those who may have been affected by the storm.

 

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SBOE Long-Range Plan committee holds first meeting

Members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) hosted the first steering committee meeting Tuesday for the development of a Long-Range Plan for Public Education.

Long Range Plan Steering Committee meeting September 12, 2017 at the Texas Education Agency.

Long-Range Plan Steering Committee meeting at the Texas Education Agency, Sept. 12, 2017.

The 18-member steering committee includes SBOE chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) and members Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands), Tom Maynard (R-Florence), Georgina Perez (D-El Paso), and Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo). Three staff members from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are also on the committee, as well as 10 public stakeholders representing various community and education interests. Additional information on the Long-Range Plan and steering committee members can be found on the TEA website.

The steering committee’s purpose is to recommend long-term goals for the state’s public school system and to identify strengths, opportunities, and challenges. The purpose of the steering committee’s first meeting was to adopt operating procedures, elect a chair, look at examples of long-range plans from other states, brainstorm a vision, get an image of the Texas demographic landscape in 2030, and prioritize three to four topics for deep dive sessions.

One of the committee’s first actions was to elect Barbara Cargill as chair and Lanet Greenhaw, vice president of education and workforce at the Dallas Regional Chamber, as vice-chair. The committee then reviewed examples of plans produced in Delaware, Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Texas State Demographer Dr. Lloyd Potter presented the committee with an overview of state demographics and how those trends may impact the public education system. Below are some highlights of the presentation to the committee.

According to Dr. Potter, Texas is experiencing urbanization characterized by people moving from rural areas to urban and suburban areas. Significant growth is also occurring in the suburban “rings,” a factor of migration out of urban cores as well as immigration from outside the state following employers to the suburbs. Dr. Potter pointed to Harris County as the most significant growing county in the nation, with roughly a dozen counties in the national top 100. Texas also is home to three of the top ten fastest growing counties in the United States. California is the top state contributing migrants to Texas, comprising 22.1 percent of the net migration from out of state.

In 2000, Hispanics comprised 32 percent of the state’s total ethnic makeup. By 2015, Hispanics comprised 39 percent. During the same period, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites roughly held steady. Much of the non-Hispanic white population consists of Baby Boomers, who are now in their 60s and 70s. Older cohorts in the Boomer age range comprise a larger percentage of the overall population each year. Across all nationalities, cohorts of school-age children are increasing year-over-year.

Using data from 2010 to 2015, projected population growth has slowed compared to previous models. Dr. Potter hypothesized this could be a result of reduced immigration from Mexico and declining fertility rates. According to the newer calculations, Texas could reach a population of just under 29 million by 2020. While the number of people who primarily speak Spanish at home has increased slightly, the percentage of school-aged children from primarily Spanish-speaking households has decreased. The percentage of children from households below the federal poverty level has slightly decreased. Looking at the labor force, low-skilled, low wage jobs are declining as high-skilled, high wage jobs are increasing as a share of the overall workforce. This is accompanied by increases in educational attainment, with the number of college graduates increasing compared to a decrease in workers with a high school diploma or less.

Among the more troubling statistics shared by the demographer today, Texas is one of the worst states in terms of teen births. Texas is ranked number five out of 50 states, ahead of only Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and New Mexico. Dr. Potter suggested there is a direct correlation between high teen birth rates and high levels of poverty. Additionally, adult obesity in Texas is on the rise.

Following the presentation by Dr. Potter, the committee moved on to prioritizing topics for deep dive discussions. Future-readiness, equity, poverty, teacher recruitment and retention, alternative certification, family and parent empowerment, parent education, early learning, numeracy and literacy, access, additional measures of accountability, and readiness to participate in the global economy were among the topics identified by members of the committee as important leverage points for improving public education.

The committee is next scheduled to meet November 6 at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in Austin.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 8, 2017

Here’s this week’s education news wrap-up from ATPE:

 


Drugs and MoneySignificant changes are coming soon for participants in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) healthcare program. In case you missed our coverage during Hurricane Harvey, the TRS Board of Trustees met last week to adopt changes to the TRS-Care health insurance plan for retirees. Read more about the changes here. Video of the Sept. 1 TRS board meeting is also available for viewing here. TRS staff have also announced a schedule of workshops to help retirees understand the changes coming in January to TRS-Care. Learn more in today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


ATPE members and other educators affected by Hurricane Harvey are encouraged to check out our Hurricane Harvey resources page for answers to questions and links to additional information. This week, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced that certain schools and districts within the disaster areas would be granted an extension of time to file appeals to 2017 academic and financial accountability ratings. Find additional information on the TEA website here.

 


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) is scheduled to meet next week in Austin. Click here for the agenda for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday meetings of the board and its committees. Ahead of that meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 12, will be the first meeting for the newly announced SBOE Long-Range Plan Steering Committee. The committee will discuss the purpose and scope of the long-range plan and look at sample plans during the initial meeting. Learn more about the steering committee here. The ATPE lobby team will have coverage of all these meetings here on Teach the Vote and on Twitter next week.

 


 

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TRS-Care info tour coming to a city near you

ThinkstockPhotos-162674067-pillsWith TRS-Care set to undergo significant changes in 2018, TRS staff have designed a comprehensive communications plan to ensure that all  plan participants have access to the information they will need to make decisions about their healthcare coverage. TRS has designed the communications plan to “touch” the 270,000 TRS-Care participants nearly two million times between now and January.

In addition to reaching out to participants through print and electronic communications, TRS staff will be going on the road to conduct in-person seminars. The seminar schedule includes 31 locations all across the state between October 9 and November 2, 2017.

The seminars will be presented in four parts and are divide into two segments of approximately 90 minutes each. The first hour and a half focuses on participants covered by Medicare; the second hour and a half covers plan changes for the pre-Medicare population. In many of the stops, the three hour seminar will be offered once in the morning from 9 am to noon, and once in the afternoon from 1:30 to 4:30 pm. Here is a list of the scheduled meetings released by TRS. To attend an in person event will require an RSVP by phone. Seating is limited. ​Please call 1-800-850-1992 Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Central time to reserve your seat.

For those who wish to participate in the TRS-Care seminar but are not able to attend one in person, TRS will also hold a minimum of eight webinars. TRS is adding additional webinars during the week of Nov. 6 to help offset its inability to hold more onsite seminars in the Houston area due to Hurricane Harvey.

For additional questions, please visit the TRS website or call TRS at 1-888-237-6762.

Those interested in the recent changes adopted for TRS-Care may also view video of the last TRS board meeting. The board’s discussion on TRS-Care begins around the 3 hour and 46 minute mark on the video and lasts approximately 45 minutes.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 1, 2017

Here’s your Labor Day weekend edition of ATPE’s education news wrap-up:



17-18_web_HurricaneHarveyAs millions are dealing with the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Harvey, ATPE wants to help educators find resources they need. Check out our new Hurricane Harvey Resources page on atpe.org, which will be updated as additional information becomes available to us. There you’ll find information from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), as well as answers to questions such as how to file for unemployment benefits or how school closures might affect an educator’s paycheck. TEA has also published a Hurricane Harvey resources page with information geared toward school district administrators, parents, and others affected by the storm.

ATPE advises those wishing to help hurricane victims to support reputable relief organizations, such as those listed on our resource page and in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. For a related and inspiring read, check out this article also by Mark, who is a native of Southeast Texas and writes about his hometown’s resiliency.

 


TRS logoThe board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) has been meeting today in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is attending the meeting and has provided a preliminary report for our blog, which will be updated as needed upon the conclusion of the meeting. Topics of discussion today include rules for 403(b) providers and changes to the TRS-Care program for retirees in light of additional money appropriated during the special session.

 


Today is your last chance to share feedback with TEA on its draft state ESSA plan. As we have reported here on Teach the Vote, the deadline for public input was extended on account of Hurricane Harvey, and all comments must be submitted to TEA by email by 5 pm today. Click here to read more from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann about the state’s draft plan for compliance with the federal education law, or read ATPE’s formal comments on the draft plan here.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-78479954With the 2018 primary elections only a few months away, ATPE is urging educators to make a plan to vote for pro-public education candidates. We are members of the Texas Educators Vote coalition aimed at increasing voter turnout among the education community.

One project of the coalition has been to encourage school boards around the state to adopt a resolution in support of creating a culture of voting in their schools. Read more about the effort in this blog post, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates coming soon to our website with information on candidates and officeholders.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-92037734The ATPE staff wishes everyone a restful Labor Day holiday and our best wishes for all those recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

 


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TRS adopts retiree healthcare changes, considers 403(b) provider rules

TRS logoATPE lobbyist Monty Exter attended a TRS Board meeting in Austin today. Today’s meeting was rescheduled from last week when it had to be delayed due to Hurricane Harvey. The agenda and board materials for the meeting can be found on the TRS website.

After preliminary housekeeping issues, the board took public comments. TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee engaged the board on the implementation and issus needing to be addressed due to recent legislation which made significant changes to TRS-Care.

After Mr. Lee, multiple industry professionals came to give their comments on TRS’s proposed rule change regarding 403(b) programs. All but one of those offering comments had strong concerns about the effect of the rules on the future availability of a robust cohort of providers for educators to choose. One witness thought the number of companies and products currently in the space was excessive and presented Texas educators with an overly complex and excessively expensive set of options. The board will further consider these rules during an agenda item later today on which we will report afterward for Teach the Vote.

After public comments, the board recognized Howard Goldman for his 24 years of service as TRS Communications Director.

Next the board received an update on the TEAM program. TEAM is the name given to TRS’s work toward updating the agency’s considerable computer infrastructures and data systems. Go live on phase one of the TEAM upgrades is set for October 2, 2017. There are some contingencies based on delays caused by Hurricane Harvey, as the storm may affect as many as 321,705 TRS members.

After the TEAM discussion, Brian Guthrie, TRS Executive Director, gave the board a special session update, including reporting on the passage of House Bill (HB) 21, which included an appropriation of $212 million for TRS-Care. The money appropriated will be used to soften the blow of the increased premiums and deductibles. The board returned to the issue of TRS-Care when it reviewed and adopted the premiums and plan design for TRS-Care, the retiree health benefits program, including the standard plan, the fully insured Medicare Advantage Plans, and the Medicare Part D Plans.

The attached document from TRS staff provides details of the now adopted TRS-Care plan design, how the new plan compares to the current TRS-Care plans, and what the plan would have looked like had HB 21 not passed during the special session. Changes to TRS-Care will not go into effect until Jan 1, 2018.

Following Guthrie’s comments, the board took up the certification of the contributions TRS will receive to fund TRS-ActiveCare. The board voted to certify to the State Comptroller the estimated amount of state contributions to be received by TRS-Active Care for fiscal year 2018. The certification amount totals $795,729,797 which includes $401,129,797 to meet the state contribution rate; $182,600,000 in supplemental funding passed during the regular session; and $212 million passed during the special session via HB 21. The state contribution rate has increased from 1.0% to 1.25% due to the passage of HB 3976 relating to changes for TRS-Care during the regular legislative session earlier this year.

TRS had initially scheduled a Policy Committee meeting to happen concurrently with today’s full board meeting, but that meeting had to be canceled as a result of a lack of quorum of those committee members due to Hurricane Harvey.

Proposed TRS meeting dates for 2018 are Feb. 14-16, April 19-20, June 14-15, July 27, Sept. 20-21, Oct 19, and Dec 13-14

The Board’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be September 21-22.

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