The House is set to debate its bill aimed at fixing the public school accountability system next week. The bill addresses aspects of accountability that were altered last session by a law that applies a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F to schools and districts. The new rating system is scheduled to go into effect next year, but following the release of preliminary results to districts, appetites for changes to the system have grown. Today the Senate Education Committee took up its bills to address fixes to the new system.
SB 2051 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) takes a broad approach to addressing the accountability system, largely giving the commissioner authority to write the system through rulemaking. Chairman Taylor acknowledged the broad approach during his bill layout and asked stakeholders to offer their thoughts on addressing the system.
ATPE recommended a number of changes including more efforts within the bill to reduce the system’s overreliance on standardized tests, required stakeholder input as TEA writes rules developing or altering the system, and language to differentiate between a D and F rating, which are considered one in the same under current law. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann received agreement from committee members on ATPE’s recommendation to add a teacher quality measure to the system, a measure included under the House bill. Kate shared that inputs like average years of teaching experience, the percentage of teachers teaching within their field of certification, and teacher turnover rates can play a valuable role on ensuring qualified teachers are equitably spread across districts.
Commissioner Mike Morath shared information with committee members regarding the current A-F system and the state of public education in Texas. He emphasized TEA efforts to better inform parents and teachers on STAAR test results and other accountability outcomes. He shared that, for the first time, teachers and parents will be able to see how their students performed question by question on the STAAR exam and introduced a new accountability report card design. Senators questioned the overall value of STAAR exam results and highlighted the correlation between struggling schools and schools with high poverty rates. Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) again raised a concern shared by ATPE in opposition to the bill establishing the A-F rating system: the stigmatizing effect of labeling schools D and F is even more inappropriate when those D and F schools are full of the highest concentrations of low income and minority students.
Another issue that garnered significant discussion was the addition of a new layer to the accountability system: students considered to be continually enrolled (or in the district over a longer period of time) would be weighted heavier when calculating the campus and district accountability score than those that are considered mobile or transient. The idea behind the change is that campuses and districts should be held more heavily accountable for those students because they are a truer reflection of the success of a campus or district. Others, however, expressed concerned that weighting students differently in the accountability system could result in some students receiving less support, and, in this case, potentially those students that need the most support.
The bill would remove the inclusion of chronic absenteeism as an indicator for elementary and middle schools. ATPE agrees with many stakeholders that such an indicator is a flawed approach for a number of reasons, some of which can be read in our testimony on SB 1173, another A-F bill heard today that seeks to only address the absenteeism indicator. The bill, filed by Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), would omit the indicator but redistribute all of the 35% weight currently dedicated to the measure to portions of the accountability system that all utilize STAAR data to measure success. ATPE highlights our concerns with this unintended consequence of increasing reliance on standardized tests in our testimony linked above.
The committee heard a number of additional bills, which can be found on the full agenda. Among the bills advanced to the Senate floor today was SB 1294 by Senator Dawn Buckingham. ATPE strongly supports the legislation aimed at fostering inclusive consultation through certain district decision making and planning processes.