Category Archives: Curriculum

SBOE quietly approves science TEKS

State Board of Education meeting April 21, 2017.

State Board of Education meeting April 21, 2017.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this morning for a final vote on proposed changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science. The biology portion in particular has been the focus of debate over the discussion of evolution. Board members began the week seeking compromise language that would satisfy scientists as well as those wishing to allow for some discussion of creationism.

The board voted down an amendment Friday by member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) that would have instructed teachers to “compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, including scientific explanations for their complexity.” The board then adopted an amendment by member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) instructing teachers “to compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, and compare and contrast scientific explanations for cellular complexity.” Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) assured the board that the compromise language still encourages criticism of the theory of evolution.

The board also modified its decision from earlier this week regarding the implementation of the science TEKS, voting Friday to order implementation by the 2017-2018 school year, and delaying the effective date to August 27, 2018.

Next, the board passed on making changes to the math TEKS, and proceeded to discussion of English and Spanish Language Arts and Reading (ELAR/SLAR) and English as a Second Language (ESL) TEKS for elementary and middle school. The board decided to postpone consideration on second reading and final adoption to a special meeting to be called by the chair. Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) explained staff ran short of time due to the simultaneous large-scale TEKS reviews underway, and suggested the minimum eight-member quorum could meet at 8:00 a.m. on May 10 to consider technical clean-ups. Members adopted the ELAR/SLAR and ESL TEKS for high school on first reading, then approved the Proclamation 2019 bid for instructional materials before adjourning. The delay will not affect the proclamation schedule.

State Board of Education takes up science, language arts TEKS

The State Board of Education is meeting this week while the Texas Legislature is session. Across the street from the Capitol inside the Texas Education Agency (TEA) building, the board began its week-long meeting Tuesday morning with public testimony on proposed changes to the science TEKS.

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

Some creationism supporters took issue with the changes proposed after first reading earlier this year. Biology teachers on the curriculum writing committee have proposed changes they explained would streamline the TEKS and focus on grade-level appropriate discussion. Creationism supporters argued Tuesday that the changes watered down criticism of evolution, and asked the board to retain proposed language to require students to “evaluate” various subjects related to evolution. Physics and chemistry teachers also recommended more mundane tweaks to their respective TEKS.

Wednesday began with an update from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. The commissioner informed the board of upcoming changes to the STAAR confidential student report card (CSR), aimed to make the report more parent-friendly and easy to understand. The report will now contain student lexile levels for the current year and over a student’s academic history. The report will include information for parents regarding how to help improve a child’s reading level, as well as guidance regarding how to maximize the impact of parent-teacher conferences. The agency has also changed terminology to replace the terms for Level I through Level III standards with “does not meet grade level,” “approaching grade level,” “meets grade level,” and “masters grade level.” These changes have already been adopted in rule and will be reflected in report cards due out in June.

Commissioner Morath also announced TEA is readying a new website that will allow parents to see every STAAR question their student was asked, along with what they answered and what other students answered, compared to the correct answer. This website is expected to roll out in mid- to late June. The agency is also working on a separate site for teachers and administrators. The separate website would help teachers and administrators unpack and understand the streamlined English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) TEKS. The site will feature sample assessment questions and is intended to help teachers understand vertical and horizontal alignment of curriculum standards, as well as distinguish the meaning of verbs used in the TEKS insofar as how they affect instruction. The agency plans to activate the site in advance of the school year in which the TEKS are scheduled to go into effect.

The commissioner responded to questions from the board regarding the rollout of the “A through F” accountability standards passed by the Texas Legislature last session. House Bill 22, which would pare down the five domains to three and eliminate the overall grade, has passed out of the House Public Education Committee this session and is expected to be up for debate on the House floor within the next two to three weeks. At this point, Morath indicated he has participated in at least 70 stakeholder meetings regarding rulemaking for the version of A through F currently undergoing implementation. Some changes have been suggested to specific components, such as the calculation of chronic absenteeism at the elementary level and adjustments for children of military families and those who are absent due to illness.

As far as legislative priorities, both the House and Senate budget proposals include $25 million requested by the agency to access matching funds for rural broadband internet. Other priorities for which TEA is seeking funding in either one or both chambers include math innovation zones, high-quality pre-K, additional staff to investigate inappropriate student-teacher relationships, IT support for the Texas Student Data System (TSDS) to facilitate additional automation, cybersecurity enhancements to safeguard student data and funding to allow the STAAR test to be released annually as opposed to every three years.

On Wednesday, the board resumed discussion on second reading of the science TEKS. After hearing testimony the day before, the board unanimously adopted an amendment adding compromise language to a key section of the biology TEKS dealing with evolution. The amendment changed “evaluate” to “examine” scientific explanations for the origin of DNA. The board also adopted an amendment that would delay implementation of the streamlined science TEKS to the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. The board completed discussion of English and Spanish Language Arts and Reading TEKS for elementary and middle school Wednesday evening, approving amendments on second reading before adjourning.

Breaking up into committees Thursday morning, the board’s committee on School Finance and the Permanent School Fund (PSF) heard an update to the bond guarantee program (BGP). As of February 28, roughly $70 billion of the program’s $100 billion capacity had been allocated. After setting aside $5 billion as required, roughly $24 billion remained available to back school bonds with the PSF. Last year, the board voted to increase the multiplier used to calculate the amount available to charter schools, which resulted in increasing that amount from $165 million to $510 million.

Committee chair David Bradley (R-Beaumont) questioned staff regarding HB 3438 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas), which would use the PSF to guarantee school lease-purchase agreements through the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA). Staff advised that current law likely allows for the PSF to be encumbered to guarantee short-term commercial debt, and debt under this program would likely be cumbersome on the TPFA. The bill was voted out of the House Public Education Committee during a formal hearing Thursday afternoon at the Texas Capitol.

After Thursday’s committee meetings, SBOE’s committee of the full board gathered to take up discussion of the English and Spanish Language Arts and English as a Second Language TEKS for high school on first reading.

SBOE Wrap-Up: November 2016

SBOE logoFriday, Nov. 18, wrapped up a busy November meeting of the State Board of Education (SBOE), which returned to Austin to tackle a wide range of subjects before the holiday break. Here’s a brief rundown of the week’s action.

Mexican-American Studies

The board said “no thanks” to a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook that sparked protests over factual errors and complaints regarding the way Mexican-Americans are characterized in the text. After a morning dominated by demonstrations and a press conference held by opponents of the textbook, the board denied approval and asked for more submissions of ethnic studies materials. The Texas Tribune‘s Aliyya Swaby has a blow-by-blow of the drama that unfolded on Tuesday. Read more about the board’s decision and what it means for both textbook publishers and school districts teaching the elective course in this press release from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

TEKS in the Crosshairs

Wednesday’s agenda focused primarily on updates to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (curriculum standards) for mathematics, science, English language arts, and reading. On the subject of math, board members heard exhaustive testimony regarding process standards, and whether less emphasis should be given to word problems and process questions both in the curriculum and on standardized tests. Members seemed to generally agree in a reduction in emphasis, but were concerned what the mathematics TEKS would be left with if process standards were done away with altogether.

The committee also heard reports from educator committees assigned to review the science TEKS in several areas, but most of the attention focused on biology. Reviewers recommended edits to the biology TEKS that included sections seen by some on the board as challenging the theory of evolution. In testimony, one biology teacher who sat on the review committee countered that the changes were made for streamlining purposes and preserved encouragement for instructors to engage in healthy debate of scientific theories. The Texas Tribune posted a summary of the arguments.

Bond Guarantees

On Thursday, the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund delved into a question regarding the use of the fund to guarantee loans for new school buildings. When growing school districts want to build, for example, a new campus, they may not necessarily have the cash on hand to pay for it right away. To get things going, they can issue a bond – basically, a loan – which they can pay off, with interest, over time. Just like you, if a school district has better credit, it can get better financing and pay less interest, which can add up to millions of dollars for a big construction project. In order to get the best financing possible, public school districts with less-than-perfect credit can get the bond “guaranteed” by the $30 billion Texas Permanent School Fund (PSF). It’s a bit like your parents co-signing a loan: You get a better interest rate because they promise to pay the bank if you can’t keep up with your payments.

Dollar fanCharter schools can also take advantage of the Bond Guarantee Program, but on a limited basis. For qualifying charter holders, the amount available under the program is set by a capacity multiplier currently set at 3.25 percent. Charter holders complain the regime creates an annual rush to snap up limited resources. At Thursday’s hearing, they asked the committee to expand the multiplier to 3.5 percent, which would create several hundred million dollars in additional bond guarantees available to charters. Some on the board expressed concern over expanding the debt for which the PSF is liable to charters over which the state has less control. The board gave preliminary approval to raising the multiplier, while halting a related proposal by TEA staff to create additional academic criteria for charter holders to qualify for the program. The Austin American-Statesman‘s Julie Chang has a thorough write-up on the bond program discussion, complete with the following quote from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter:

“The board’s first priority should always be to protect the fund so that it continues to be available to guarantee new bonding for facilities for all Texas students,” Exter said. “We agree with the commissioner on enhancing academic requirements to access the bond guarantee program. Some board members have expressed concerns about expansion by charter holders who have not utilized their current capacity. ATPE encourages those members to continue to ask those sorts of questions.”

SBEC Rules

Friday wrapped with the board taking up several rule proposals sent to them from the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). All SBEC rules must undergo final review by the SBOE board, which can vote to reject and send back proposals or take no action — which has the effect of approving the proposals. All the SBEC proposals received final approval. Learn more about those educator preparation and discipline proposals in this recent blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

Legislative Recommendations

The board also approved its 2017 legislative recommendations, which include a prohibition on vouchers, increased appropriations for TEA staff to adequately oversee and support the TEKS process, support for federal E-Rate support funding, an elimination of TEA’s arbitrary limit on students receiving special education services, and improved student data privacy, among others.

Farewells

This week’s SBOE meeting was the final one for two outgoing board members, Martha Dominguez (D) from SBOE District 1 and Thomas Ratliff (R) from SBOE District 9. Dominguez is an educator and current ATPE member; many of the board members referred to her as the heart or conscience of the board.

Thomas Ratliff

Thomas Ratliff

Ratliff, son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, came onto the board eight years ago, after winning a primary election to replace the former board chair and a divisive figure in curriculum battles, Don McLeroy (R). During his tenure, Ratliff helped usher in one of the most productive and cooperative periods in the history of the SBOE.

Both of these members will be greatly missed, and ATPE thanks them for their service. After Dominguez and Ratliff decided not to run for re-election this year, their respective replacements were determined through this year’s elections to be Georgina Perez (D) and Keven Ellis (R). Perez and Ellis will begin their four-year terms in January

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State testing commission meets for the second time, hears from public

The Commission on Next Generation Assessments  and Accountability met at the Capitol in Austin on Tuesday, Feb 23. The commission heard from three invited panels and then took a little over an hour to hear public testimony.

The meeting kicked off with the appointment of commission member Stacy Hock to serve as vice-chair of the commission. Next, the commission heard from the outgoing chair of the House Public Education Committee and author of the bill that created to the commission, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen). The first panel of invited witnesses consisted of Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes, and Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission Andres Alcantar.

Commissioner Morath spoke about the foundational nature of the state’s curriculum standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), both within our education system generally and as they relate to the assessment system. He also spoke about the role of the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRs) within the TEKS and how Texas was first out of the gate nationally when it first developed the CCRs. He also spoke on the different levels of cut scores as they related to college readiness. Morath generated the most reaction, however, with his closing remark about transitioning away from the current assessment system to a system of small, formative assessments given throughout the year. Morath expressed that he envisioned such an assessment system as being most effectively delivered in a digital format, from which data could be pulled at the end of the year to create a summative result without the need for an additional summative test. Such a system, if correctly implemented, could address many of the issues various stakeholders have with the current system.

Commissioner Paredes spoke next on the Closing the Gaps initiative which began in 2000 and just completed in 2015, plus the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s new initiative known as “60/30,” which is just kicking off and seeks to raise the percentage of the eligible Texas population with a post-secondary degree of certification to 60 percent by the year 2030, slightly less than double the current percentage. Paredes also talked to the commission about the TSI, the Texas-specific college entrance exam that came out the Texas Success Initiative. The TSI is based directly on the CCRs and has the benefit of pinpointing very granular areas where a student may be lacking skills, which can greatly cut down on time spent remediating students. Finally, Paredes pointed out that despite the benefits of having the CCRs, they should only be looked to as a proxy because the truth is that whether or not a student is college ready is entirely the purview of the college faculty teaching freshman level classes, and that there is a wide range of rigor in the reality that isn’t necessarily reflected in the standards.

The second panel consisted of Matt Lisk, Executive Director of College Readiness Assessments, College Board, and John Clark, Lead Account Strategist, ACT, Inc. Client Relations. They spent their time extolling the virtues of and answering questions about the respective companies’ testing products.

The third panel included Karen Rue, Superintendent, Northwest ISD and Dawson Orr, Department Chair, Southern Methodist University, both speaking on behalf of the Texas High Preforming Schools Consortium. They, too, began their presentations by referencing the fundamental nature of the TEKS, but from the perspective that the sheer breadth of TEKS precludes covering them at any depth. The pair spent most of their time trying to describe and convince the commissioners and lawmakers present of the value of what they termed “community-based accountability.” While the promises and high-level theory of such a model sounded very promising to many in the audience and some on the dais, there was definitely some skepticism on the part of some of the commissioners and lawmakers as to the feasibility of what they view as essentially a system of self-rating.

ThinkstockPhotos-111939554Finally, the panel heard from roughly 20 witnesses during the public testimony portion of the agenda. By and large these testifiers were individual parents and educators. They gave the commission a much needed window into some of the shortcomings of the current system where theory meets reality. Of particular impact was testimony about the true logistics of teaching to the test. Issues mentioned included problems like the 26-line first draft writing test that in no way reflects how anyone in the real world writes. Another concern was the 10-line short answer section where students find it very difficult to completely answer the highly valued questions in the limited and rigidly enforced space allotted. One teacher testified that an example of her teaching to the test was to spend time working with her students on writing small so that they could fit more into the box. Another testifier brought up the effect that the vast number of multiple choice questions was having on a student’s ability to synthesize original thought from whole cloth, without being presented multiple choice options . Parents often pointed out how otherwise successful hardworking and sometimes exceptional kids were having their self-worth and futures crushed under the weight of repressive and unforgiving testing. The witnesses described that particularly for those students with learning disorders, those who suffered from severe test anxiety, or those who were part of the large and growing population of English Language Learners,  the test was much less a measure of their subject area knowledge and more a reflection of their disabilities or circumstance. The commission uniformly thanked those who provided public testimony for adding a much needed perspective to the conversation.

Commission meetings are live-streamed as they are happening and available for viewing from an archive about a week later. The most current meeting is not yet available in the archive for viewing but we will post a link in this post when it is. Future meeting dates for the commission include: Wednesday, March 23, 2016; Wednesday, April 20, 2016; Wednesday, May 25, 2016; and Wednesday, July 27, 2016.

You can read more on the Commission for Next Generation Assessments and Accountability at http://tea.texas.gov/2804commission.aspx

TEA launches online resource library for educators and parents

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced today the launch of the Texas Gateway, a project of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) described as a free online resource library for educators and parents. The online site expands educators’ and parents’ access to resources aimed at supporting classroom instruction.

“The Texas Gateway reflects many months of work and collaboration with our educators who asked TEA for an avenue that promotes a Texas-specific approach to online resources,” said Commissioner Morath in a press release distributed by TEA today. “And while teachers will no doubt find the resources on this site to be valuable tools, items found on the Texas Gateway are also available to parents, students, and all Texans at no cost.”

The site is intended to offer educators instant and free access to a variety of resources searchable by grade level, subject, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), and keywords. The site offers videos, interactives, assessments, lessons, and other materials that are aligned with the TEKS. In addition, educators may access professional development resources. The site’s continuing professional education (CPE) offerings are currently limited to two courses, but additional courses are expected to be added.

While a username and password is not required to gain access to the site or the materials within, visitors to the site are able to create an account that allows for saving relevant resources and sharing those resources with teachers, parents, or students. The TEA press release said that the resources available will continue to grow and that TEA will work with the education service centers (ESCs) and school districts in the coming months to promote and gather feedback on the Texas Gateway.

To learn more about the Texas Gateway or explore the available resources, visit www.texasgateway.org.

Abbott vetoes bill aimed at shrinking curriculum standards

This weekend marked the deadline for Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to sign or veto bills passed by the 84th Legislature. By Sunday, Abbott had vetoed a total of 42 bills. One fairly high-profile education bill was among the group: Senate Bill (SB) 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) was an ATPE-supported bill that called for the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and narrow the content and scope of the foundation curriculum standards that form the basis of STAAR tests.

The curriculum standards, officially known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), have always been a source of controversy. Partly because of political battles among SBOE factions aiming to inject the standards with content deemed to be either liberal-leaning or conservative-leaning, the TEKS have swelled to a point that many educators consider them to be unwieldy. ATPE and others who supported SB 313 hoped that an SBOE review aimed at narrowing the TEKS would provide some relief, but Abbott vetoed the bill on Friday, June 19.

In his official veto message on SB 313, Abbott wrote, “While Senate Bill 313 is intended to provide additional flexibility to school districts when purchasing classroom instructional materials, the bill potentially restricts the ability of the State Board of Education to address the needs of Texas classrooms. Portions of Senate Bill 313 may have merit, but serious concerns were raised about other parts of the bill. I look forward to working with the Legislature and other stakeholders to ensure this issue is vigorously evaluated before next Session.”

The “serious concerns” cited by Abbott were apparently those voiced by a small group of conservatives worried that the bill would open the door for introduction of Common Core to Texas. A number of Tea Party operatives had criticized the bill on that basis, despite the existence of another state law passed in 2013 that already prohibits the adoption of any national curriculum standards in Texas. (In fact, while serving as Attorney General, Abbott issued an opinion emphasizing that school districts in Texas are not authorized to use Common Core under state law. Nothing in SB 313 would have negated that law.) Even the bill’s author told reporters recently that SB 313 had nothing to do with Common Core, and Sen. Seliger reiterated his own opposition to Common Core. Notwithstanding the substance of the actual bill and strong state laws that already keep Common Core out of our state, the perceived link between SB 313 and Common Core became the curriculum bill’s fatal flaw.

Late in the legislative session, some conservative members of the SBOE and leaders of Tea Party groups were already lobbying lawmakers to reject the bill, but SB 313 ultimately passed with only a handful of no votes, as we reported on our blog back on June 1. With passage of the measure, social conservatives opposed to SB 313 shifted their efforts instead toward lobbying Abbott to veto the bill. The leadership of the Texas Republican Party recently adopted a resolution urging Abbott to veto SB 313, complaining that the bill “puts recent conservative curriculum victories in jeopardy, including emphasis on patriotism as required by state law, discussion of the Founding Fathers and documents, American Exceptionalism, America’s rich religious heritage, character education, achievements of Ronald Reagan.” The resolution also claimed that the current TEKS “require students to know specific facts and reflect conservative values of Texas, but forcing the SBOE to remove content and make it more general reflects the philosophy underlying the Common Core standards.”

We’re disappointed in this instance that Gov. Abbott paid more deference to the politically-motivated, fact-challenged paranoia of a few individuals with extreme viewpoints than to the vast numbers of SB 313 supporters who wanted to see something done about the voluminous TEKS our teachers are forced to cover every year despite the limitations of time and testing. The only consolation is that we still have House Bill 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), which the governor did sign into law, and that bill will require the Texas Education Agency to conduct a comprehensive study of the TEKS. We hope that the study will produce the kind of “vigorous evaluation” of the issue that Abbott wants to see and allow the legislature and SBOE to make some positive, lasting changes in 2017.

SBOE asks commissioner for accountability relief during implementation of new math curriculum standards

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is concerned that the implementation of new curriculum standards for mathematics this year may cause unintended headaches for some schools, educators, and students, and several board members are hoping the commissioner of education will offer assistance.

The board revised the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for math in grades 3-8 in 2012, and those new TEKS are being implemented in schools this year. Some SBOE members fear negative consequences for students, teachers, and schools that have not yet had sufficient time for professional development, incorporating new instructional materials aligned with the TEKS, and adjusting to the new standards, which in some cases require skills to be taught at different grade levels than they were under the prior math standards.

Today, 14 members of the board wrote a letter to Commissioner of Education Michael Williams asking him to consider a temporary “hold harmless” provision in state accountability requirements for campuses and school districts during the initial implementation period. They also asked for additional support from the Texas Education Agency through professional development resources. Board members stated in the letter, “We believe our math standards are important and worth supporting without the counterproductive pressure for students and teachers during the transition.”

The SBOE met for several days this week to swear in newly elected members, appoint board members to serve on particular committees, and elect officers. The board re-elected Thomas Ratliff as its vice-chair and tapped Ruben Cortez to serve as board secretary. (The chairman of the board, Barbara Cargill, is selected by the governor and confirmed by the Texas Senate.) Sue Melton-Malone, who is also a former state president of ATPE, was elected by her fellow members to chair the SBOE’s Committee on Instruction, for which she previously served as vice-chair. SBOE member Patricia “Pat” Hardy will continue in her role as chair of the Committee on School Finance and the Permanent School Fund. Board members also elected Marty Rowley to serve as chair of the Committee on School Initiatives, with Martha Dominguez as his vice-chair. ATPE congratulates all the newly elected members and officers.

House committees look at student ticketing, math courses and testing

The House Committee on Public Education met twice this week to review the implementation of several bills passed last year. The first was a joint hearing with the House Committee on Corrections to discuss school discipline and the implementation of Senate Bills (SB) 393 and 1114 related to student ticketing. In a separate meeting, the education committee had ongoing discussions about the implementation of House Bill (HB) 5, the bill that made sweeping changes to the state’s graduation requirements and testing requirements.

SB 393 and SB 1114 were passed in 2013 in an attempt to reduce the issuance of criminal tickets to students for minor school offenses. This week’s joint committee meeting revealed that since the implementation of those bills in September of last year, the number of court filings resulting from the issuance of class C misdemeanor tickets for school offenses has dropped by 90,000. That number represents an 83 percent decrease. During the same period, the number of school arrests, suspensions and referrals to alternative campuses has remained stable or decreased slightly. According to testimony at the hearing, this suggests that the drop in student ticketing has not had a negative impact on the campus environment with regard to discipline.

While SB 393 and SB 1114 did not cut off the ability to use the criminal justice system as a deterrent and tool to maintain school discipline, the goal of the bills was to decriminalize school offenses in most situations. Advocates on all side of this issue want to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, and in doing so, ATPE also wants to ensure that educators feel supported and in fact are supported in their efforts to maintain discipline in their classrooms.

We want to know what you think about student ticketing. Please post your comments on our blog and let us know what your experience has been at the campus level since the passage of SB 393 and SB 1114.

During the subsequent meeting on Oct. 8, the House Committee on Public Education heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials and experts about new courses being developed in response to HB 5 to serve as equivalently rigorous alternatives to Algebra II. According to testimony at the hearing, the new Non-AP Statistics course being developed is on track to be completed soon. The Algebraic Reasoning course is proving to be more difficult. Many advocates of that course, including some legislators, envision Algebraic Reasoning as an applications-style course for Algebra II. However, that type of course is proving more challenging to develop because any course based on the existing Algebra II TEKS that would require a teacher to use applications would likely cross the line into specifying a method of teaching, which is illegal in Texas.

Despite the difficulties, Dr. Uri Treisman of the University of Texas’ Dana Center, a mathematics think tank, applauded the state on the efforts being made and informed the committee that what they are striving for is in alignment with where higher education has been moving. According to Dr. Treisman, institutions of higher education have for several years been moving away from a single college math pathway based on Algebra, favoring multiple pathways instead. Such pathways include the traditional Algebra route as well as pathways based on Statistics and Quantitative Modeling.

In addition to the receiving the update on new math courses, committee members raised several questions about the state’s testing and accountability system. The committee voiced considerable concern about the removal of the STAAR Modified test and the impact of that change on schools and students with disabilities. TEA representatives also caused a stir among the committee when they relayed that TEA had kicked out sample STAAR test items based on the percentage of students who answered the question correctly. According to TEA, if more than 90-95 percent or less than 25 percent of tests takers answered an item correctly, it was removed. The committee noted that it seemed patently unfair to remove a question that tested basic TEKS merely because all or nearly all students answered the question correctly. A public witness who testified later during the hearing noted that by removing questions in that manner, TEA had essentially converted what was supposed to be a criterion-referenced assessment into a normative assessment. Many education experts believe that normative assessments should never be used for high stakes or accountability purposes.

At one point during the hearing, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble) announced that he was seriously considering filing a bill in the next session to do away with state-mandated standardized testing altogether. A representative of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) shared with the committee that more than 35 states do not use standardized testing as a graduation requirement and implored the committee to consider changing state law to make any statewide testing system diagnostic only. ATPE member Cynthia Ruiz, an English teacher from Pflugerville ISD, eloquently testified about the problem of teaching to the test and the failings of the STAAR writing test. Several committee members thanked her for her testimony.

Video of the Joint Committee hearing on school discipline and student ticketing can be viewed here. Video of the House Public Education Committee’s HB 5 hearing can be viewed here.

Attorney General Abbott issues new opinion regarding Common Core

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has written an opinion relating to the Common Core State Standards, a set of national curriculum standards that several states other than Texas have adopted. In Texas, the State Board of Education (SBOE) is responsible for adopting state curriculum standards, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

In 2013, the State Legislature passed a bill prohibiting SBOE from adopting the Common Core standards for use in Texas; that bill also stated that school districts “may not use common core state standards to comply with the requirement to provide instruction in the essential knowledge and skills.” ATPE strongly supported the bill, which aligned with our long-standing legislative program position opposing nationalization of curriculum, tests or teacher certification.

In December 2013, Sen. Dan Patrick (R–Houston) requested an attorney general’s (AG’s) opinion to determine whether a school district that uses Common Core “in any way to teach” the state’s mandated curriculum would be violating state law. In his request for the opinion, Patrick claimed that “certain school districts within Texas are currently using Common Core to teach the Texas state standards.” He did not identify particular school districts in his written request, however. Read the entire request by Sen. Patrick here.

In response to Patrick’s request for an AG’s opinion, some school districts expressed concern that the state’s new law had put them in the position of being forced to violate the prohibition merely because of overlaps between the state’s existing standards and Common Core. They worried, in other words, that they would be unable to teach particular segments of the TEKS if those segments happened to match what was also covered in the Common Core standards. In his new opinion, Abbott writes that the districts’ concern was “baseless,” adding that legislators were “aware of the frequent overlap between the TEKS and the Common Core Standards” when they passed the law.

Abbott’s opinion does not directly address any concerns about school districts’ use of instructional materials that might have been developed with Common Core in mind. Instead, it simply reiterates what the underlying law states—that school districts may not use the Common Core State Standards Initiative to satisfy their requirement to teach the TEKS. Read the full opinion here.

Common Core has been the focus of heated political debates around the country. Republicans and Democrats alike have complained about the idea of national standards and viewed Common Core as an illustration of federal government overreach into state policy matters. Indeed, some states have been pressured to adopt Common Core in order to receive waivers of burdensome and outdated ESEA/NCLB federal accountability laws from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Ironically, the Common Core standards were developed not by the Obama administration but rather by the National Governor’s Association; strong supporters of Common Core include high-profile Republican governors and former governors, including New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Florida’s Jeb Bush, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.

Despite the outright prohibition against Common Core in our state, it remains a popular political talking point. For that reason, it is not surprising that Patrick and Abbott would both choose to weigh in publicly on Common Core at this time, considering that each of them is in the midst of a fierce campaign for higher office this year. Patrick is running for lieutenant governor, and Abbott is running for governor.

TASA seeks volunteer teachers to design digital content resources

The Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) is seeking accomplished teachers and content specialists to help identify and develop new digital content.

In June, during three-day summer camps in Austin, teams of experienced teachers will help design TEKS-aligned content resources in middle school core-subject content areas and high school subject areas such as foreign languages, fine arts, career and technical education, and advanced academic core-content areas. The resource collections will later be offered free of charge to Texas school districts through TASA on iTunes U®.

The middle school course development camp will take place on June 9–11 and the high school course development camp is scheduled for June 11–13. TASA will select teams of teachers and content specialists based on content-area expertise, enthusiasm for exploring new ways of teaching and learning and instructional experience, including proficiency in digital learning platforms. Continuing professional education (CPE) credit will be available for participants.

Click here for additional details about the application process. Applications must be submitted to TASA with a letter of recommendation no later than May 19, and selections will be announced by May 27. For more information, call Brandon Core at (512) 477-6361 or visit TASA’s website.