Category Archives: teaching

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.

Subcommittee resumes teacher misconduct discussion

The House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality met Monday to take up another round of legislation primarily related to inappropriate relationships between educators and students.

hearing 03-27-17

Before addressing the teacher misconduct bills, the committee began the hearing with HB 2209 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso). HB 2209 would incorporate “universal design for learning” into the required training for all classroom teachers. It would require additional continuing education and require SBEC to add training in disabilities to the requirements for educator preparation programs (EPPs). The fiscal note assumes TEA would need to hire two additional employees to carry out the bill’s requirements at a cost of $322,000 through 2019.

HB 1918 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would create a grant program to provide online professional development courses for new teachers, those teaching out of their certification or those teaching at underperforming schools. According to the fiscal note, 500 teachers would be eligible to participate, and the program would cost the state $8.7 million over the next years. The bill would be funded by $6 million in Rider 41 through Article III of the state budget.

HB 1403 by state Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) would expand the criminal offense of inappropriate relationship between an educator and a student. Under current law, a person commits a felony if they engage in sexual relations with a student at the same school or with a student they know attends school in the same district in which they teach. HB 1403 would make it a felony for any teacher to engage in sexual relations with anyone they know to be a primary or secondary school student, regardless of where they go to school.

HB 1799 by state Rep. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) would create a registry for teachers who have been involved in inappropriate relationships with students or those who have been deemed ineligible to teach as a result of their criminal history. The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) already maintains this information, but Dale noted it’s not readily available to private schools or schools outside of Texas. HB 1799 aims to address this by creating a registry of ineligible teachers open to all appropriate employers. Each school would be required to consult the registry before making a new hire and report misconduct information to the registry. The registry would be administered by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and according to the fiscal note, would cost $1.2 million the first year and $515,000 per year afterward for four additional TEA employees.

HB 3769 by subcommittee Chairman Ken King (R-Canadian) is the companion to SB 7, which ATPE testified in support of during Senate hearings earlier this month. Both were heard in the subcommittee on Monday, and ATPE continues to support them. Committee members raised a handful of questions regarding the legislation. Chairman King suggested to state Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) that he would be open to providing clearer language that would subject administrators who fail to meet reporting requirements to criminal charges. Rep. Allen also suggested reporting timelines should be measured in business days, as opposed to calendar days, and argued that pension revocation — as discussed in the Senate — amounted to “overkill.” SB 7 was amended to remove language holding administrators who “should have known” about misconduct liable.

“I’m going to make this a better bill before we vote on it,” King assured the committee. All bills were left pending.

House subcommittee takes up educator quality bills

The House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality held its first meeting on Monday. Chaired by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), the committee includes Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston), Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). Present for Monday’s meeting, Reps. King, Meyer and VanDeaver considered a half dozen bills related to teachers.

HB 333 by Rep. Meyer addresses improper relationships between educators and students. Meyer’s bill expands the law to prohibit romantic relationships between a teacher and a student from anywhere in the state.

In the same vein, HB 218 by state Rep. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) increases the reporting requirements related to improper relationships between educators and students. Such incidents involve less than 0.1 percent of Texas teachers, but just one is too many. ATPE is committed to being a part of the solution and has worked with several lawmakers on legislation to address this issue.

Like similar bills, HB 218 prohibits romantic relationships between a teacher and a student from anywhere in the state. Administrators who fail to report alleged incidents of improper relationships would face a misdemeanor charge, which could be upgraded to a state jail felony if the administrator is found to have intentionally tried to conceal an alleged incident.

The bill would further require an educator to surrender their certification if they accept deferred adjudication for an improper relationship with a student. Schools would be required to have new hires sign a pre-employment affidavit disclosing any accusations, charges, or convictions for an improper relationship with a student, and employees who assist someone who has engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor with obtaining school employment could have their certificates suspended or revoked. The Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) subpoena power would be expanded to allow the commissioner to summon witnesses of alleged incidents of misconduct.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified on the bill, stating concern that the requirement to disclose potentially false accusations would have a chilling effect on the career prospects of unfairly accused educators.

Like most bills relating to improper relationships between educators and students, HB 218 would mandate continuing education in understanding appropriate relationships, boundaries, and communications between educators and students. It would also require districts to adopt written electronic communication policies designed to prevent improper communications between school employees and students.

HB 1469 by state Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Coldspring) would allow open-enrollment charter schools to hire a teacher without a baccalaureate degree for a noncore academic career and technical education course if they have experience in the related field and receive at least 20 hours of classroom management training.

HB 972 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would make it more difficult for districts to assign students to an uncertified teacher. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 816 by House Public Education Committee Vice-Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would create a mentor program for new teachers in Texas. Texas has a history of successful, if short-lived, mentor programs that have reduced teacher attrition and improved student performance. Studies have shown up to half of educators leave the profession within the first five years, and teacher attrition costs Texas between $200 million and $500 million each year.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in support of HB 816, pointing out the success of prior initiatives dating back to the 1990s. The Texas Beginning Educator Support System (TxBESS) was a $12 million pilot program launched in 1999, which provided support, training, assessment, and $400 per year stipends for roughly 2,000 program participants. Eighty-eight percent of teachers returned after the first year, well over the 81 percent state average for non-TxBESS teachers. After the second year, 98 percent of that cohort continued to teach. Principals reported TxBESS improved teacher performance, with minority teachers and high school teachers showing the most improvement. Funding for TxBESS expired in 2002.

In 2006, the Texas Legislature created the Beginning Teacher Induction and Mentoring (BTIM) program with an initial $15 million per year appropriation. Mentor teachers received up to $750 per year stipends, and districts reported 30 percent increases is new teacher retention. Funding for BTIM expired in 2012.

In 2013, the Texas Legislature commissioned a study on mentoring by the Teacher Mentoring Advisory Committee (MAC). The committee released its final report in 2015, and HB 816 seeks to implement its recommendations.

Bernal’s bill would allow schools to assign a veteran teacher to mentor a new teacher for at least two years, and receive a stipend and specialized mentorship training. Mentors would be required to meet with mentees at least once a week in order to discuss district context and policies, instructional practices, professional development, and expectations. Mentors and mentees would be guaranteed release time to facilitate mentoring activities, including classroom observation and coaching. According to the fiscal note, HB 816 would cost a modest $3 million over the next biennium in order to provide a $250 allotment for each of the 5,800 educators forecast to participate in the program. Bernal suggested the estimate was actually too low, and indicated he anticipates higher participation than the fiscal note assumed.

HB 1255 by state Rep. VanDeaver would remove the $450 cap on subsidized teacher training awarded under the Texas Advanced Placement Incentive Program. VanDeaver stated removing the cap could allow TEA to structure incentives to boost participation in underserved parts of the state. The bill carries a fiscal note indicating a cost of $2.3 million over the biennium. VanDeaver argued the estimate is inaccurate, since the bill would simply grant flexibility to spend existing funding, as opposed to mandating new funding. ATPE supports this bill.

All Monday’s bills were left pending.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 14, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are education news stories you might have missed this week:


Road sign toward election 2016We’re only 10 days away from the start of early voting for the 2016 general election. Many thanks to all of you who helped get pro-public education voters registered. Read more about Texas’s record-setting voter registration statistics in this recent article from The Texas Tribune, which we’ve republished here on Teach the Vote.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. The early voting period will run from Monday, Oct. 24, through Friday, Nov. 4. Early voting enables you to visit any polling place within your county or political subdivision. In most counties, if you wait until Election Day to vote, you’ll be required to vote in the assigned polling location for your precinct. Voters over the age of 65 or those unable to make it to the polls due to certain circumstances such as illness may apply for a ballot by mail. Learn more about the requirements for voting here. Also, click here to find out about ways the Texas Educators Vote coalition, which includes ATPE, is encouraging school leaders to help get their employees to the polls during the early voting period.

I votedNow is a great time to find out where legislative and State Board of Education candidates stand on public education issues. Use our 2016 Races page to search for your districts and read about the candidates in those races. Remember that unlike the primary elections held earlier this year where voters had to choose to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries, in November you can vote for any candidate in the general election regardless of party affiliation, including independent candidates.


The House Public Education Committee has scheduled an interim hearing for Monday, Oct. 17, where the main topic of discussion will be private school vouchers. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will be testifying at the hearing and will provide a full report for Teach the Vote next week. In the meantime, check out this video press release where Monty explains why ATPE remains committed to fighting efforts to implement a publicly funded voucher or private school scholarship program in Texas.


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education has released new federal rules for teacher preparation, which include requirements for states to hold educator preparation programs accountable for a number of factors. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has been following the development of the rules over the last couple of years and provided a full report for Teach the Vote earlier this week.


Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) wants teachers to help students learn how to interact with law enforcement officers in the hope of decreasing violent incidents. Whitmire has announced plans to file a bill that would make lessons on police interaction part of the required curriculum for students in the ninth grade. The topic was discussed at a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, which Whitmire chairs. Read more about the idea in a recent story from KVUE News here, and check out a related interview with ATPE member Cristal Misplay, who worked as a law enforcement officer before becoming a third-grade teacher in Round Rock ISD. We want to hear your thoughts on requiring the ninth grade curriculum to include lessons on interacting with police. Post your comments below.


Rent on red business binderAustin ISD is considering ways to foster teacher retention by partnering with the City of Austin to explore future affordable housing options for educators and other public employees. Austin ATPE President Heidi Langan spoke to KXAN News this week about the local cost of teacher turnover. Her district has struggled to keep teachers who often leave for neighboring districts that offer higher salaries and where houses are more affordable. Check out the full interview here.


Are you a teacher or parent in a school district that is considering a District of Innovation (DOI) designation? ATPE has a resource page dedicated to helping stakeholders navigate the DOI process and learn about the types of laws that can be waived in districts that avail themselves of the new DOI law. Our resource page includes examples of some Texas school districts that have become DOIs and provides tips on how to share input with your district through the DOI process. Check out the DOI resource page here.


 

ATPE Tips & Tricks: Engaging Student Voters

An election year is a great time to teach students about the political process! US government teacher Kim Grosenbacher shares five tips for engaging students during an election season and encouraging them to vote.

      1. RegisterToVoteBecome a volunteer voter registrar. Contact your local election office and become a volunteer voter registrar so you can personally register the eligible students at your high school. Students can register in Texas when they are 17 and 10 months. This will help students who turn 18 between the election date and the 30-day voter registration deadline. Have students research the voter registration process at votetexas.gov.
      2. Share local sample ballots with your students. It’s important for students to understand that they are voting for not only a presidential candidate but also state and local candidates. This year so many have shared that they do not want to vote for either candidate, but the reality is the ballot contains multiple candidates who are seeking elected office. Democracy only works when people actively participate in it.
      3. Help students discover their political ideology. Have them go to isidewith.com to take a political ideology quiz that will align them with a particular candidate. This will give them a starting point in researching and seeking out whom to endorse or vote for.
      4. Have students research the candidates. Students should research the current candidates and the issues they are supporting. Don’t reinvent the wheel—use resources that are designed to help you teach the election. I have students research the major candidates and come up with speaking points on why they would vote for that particular candidate. Student News Daily is a great resource. Have them research candidates using their own websites. Here are the candidates’ websites (in alphabetical order):
      5. Engage in classroom discussion and debate. Now that your students are familiar with the candidates and their issues, it’s time to discuss and debate. Pose a question on an issue or a candidate and ask them to argue a side. Explain that everyone has a right to be heard and that your classroom is a safe learning environment in which to share your opinion. I challenge my students to come up with three speaking points on why we should vote for their candidate. In each class, randomly call on students to share their speaking points and convince the class why we should vote for their candidate. I use a randomizer app called ClassDojo. This is a great teaching tool that helps organizes how many times I call on a student—it keeps my students engaged and ready to answer questions!

Kim Grosenbacher is a high school social studies teacher in Boerne ISD. She has been teaching for 15 years and has been an ATPE member for 11 years.

Want more great tips? Follow ATPE on Facebook and Pinterest.

This post was originally published on the ATPE blog on Sept. 27, 2016.

New national report explores trends in teacher shortages, looks at teaching in Texas

EA new report by the Learning Policy Institute looks at teacher shortages in the United States, which the report indicates are a growing concern and offers policy recommendations to reverse the trend. The report states that while teachers were laid off in high numbers during the Great Recession, demand has since risen and projections continue to show a steep increase. Meanwhile, some current trends in the profession – declining enrollment in educator preparation programs, high attrition rates, and a rising student population – pose reason for concern.

Among its findings, the report pays particular attention to teacher attrition rates, which not only affect teacher shortages, but also carry a big cost and have a negative impact on student achievement. The report finds that keeping teachers in the classroom at a rate similar to that of other countries with high-achieving education systems, which would mean cutting our attrition rate roughly in half, would eliminate the teacher shortage altogether. The report also disproves popular rhetoric suggesting an aging workforce is the primary problem. It shows that roughly two-thirds of the attrition rate is made of teachers leaving prior to retirement, and they primarily leave due to some form of dissatisfaction.

Four major factors are highlighted as affecting recruitment and retention: compensation, preparation, mentoring and induction, and teaching conditions. For example: rates of attrition are higher in districts that pay lower salaries; teachers with little preparation are more than twice as likely to leave the profession than a fully-prepared teacher; high-quality mentoring received by novice teachers in their early years can significantly reduce attrition rates; and teacher retention is improved when administrative support is strong and teachers input is considered in decision making. The report also highlights major inequities in attrition rates, such as the fact that teachers working in high-minority, high-poverty schools and math and science teachers account for much higher turnover rates.

Based on the study’s findings, the Learning Policy Institute accompanies the report with an interactive tool that looks at a variety of factors to assign states’ a “teaching attractiveness rating” and a “teacher equity rating.” On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least desirable rating, Texas, unfortunately, receives a teaching attractiveness rating of 2 and a teacher equity rating of 2.3.

The interactive tool can be explored here and the report as well as its policy recommendations are available here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 8, 2016

We’ve got your wrap-up covering this week’s state and federal education news:


Little children study globeThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced this week the 578 recipients of the high-quality prekindergarten grant program, which parceled out a total of $116 million to Texas school systems. The grant program is the result of House Bill 4, legislation initiated by Gov. Greg Abbott and passed by the 84th Legislature in 2015.

Gov. Abbott declared early childhood education a priority ahead of the 2015 legislative session and the legislature responded with the passage of HB 4. ATPE supported the bill, which increased state funding by $130 million for prekindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures, and its passage was a win for early childhood education advocates.

The passage of HB 4 and this week’s announcement of funding for 578 prekindergarten programs across the state is a welcomed change for programs that had previously seen significant budget cuts and vetoes on bills that supported early childhood education. Still, considering the money is to be dispersed among a large number of school systems, the per pupil dollar amount will be telling in terms of how far the state needs to go to invest in quality and meaningful early education. Recipients of the grant will begin implementing the funding for prekindergarten programs in the upcoming school year.

For a full list of grantees and additional information on the HB 4 High-Quality Prekindergarten Grant Program, visit TEA’s webpage dedicated to the program.


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education (ED) has released the draft rule text of two assessment portions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): the rule administering assessments under the law and the rule pertaining to the new innovative assessment pilot established by the law.

The broad assessment provision draft rules are a result of a compromise reached by a committee of stakeholders through the negotiated rulemaking process, on which Teach the Vote reported earlier this year. Negotiated rulemaking is only required for certain provisions of the law; other ESSA provisions, such as the innovative assessment pilot, are written by way of the department’s traditional rulemaking procedures.

The innovative assessment pilot draft rules include a concept supported by ATPE in a letter written to U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. in May and in previous ATPE input provided to Congress. As a means of reducing the time and emphasis placed on standardized testing, ATPE has encouraged Congress and ED to consider allowing states to use a scientifically valid sample of the student population to assess students and report disaggregated state-level data. ATPE’s letter to Secretary King asked the department to give pilot states the option to utilize sample testing and pointed to our previous input to Congress. ATPE is pleased that the department included a version of our input in the innovative assessment pilot, which will allow pilot states to consider exploring this already successfully used method of assessing students.

The department’s draft rule offers seven states the opportunity to implement an innovative testing system in some school districts, with the goal for those systems to eventually go statewide. States must implement high-quality testing systems that match the results of current state-standardized tests and fit within four category types: grade span testing for an innovative assessment, assessing a representative sample of students who take the innovative assessment and the state standardized test, including common test items on both the state standardized tests and the innovative assessment, or a broad option that requires states to demonstrate that innovative assessments are as rigorous as current state assessments. Participating states would have up to five years to pilot systems with the opportunity for a two-year extension.

For more, read ATPE’s letter to Secretary King and ATPE’s comments to Congress on limiting the negative impact caused by the overuse of standardized testing and federal assessment requirements.


The 2016-2017 teacher shortage areas were released this week, and the list looks similar to recent years. This year, TEA identifies six shortage areas:

  1. Bilingual/English as a Second Language – Elementary and Secondary Levels
  2. Career and Technical Education
  3. Computer Science/Technology Applications
  4. Mathematics
  5. Science
  6. Special Education – Elementary and Secondary Levels

ThinkstockPhotos-178456596_teacherAhead of every school year, TEA submits to ED a list of shortage areas in Texas. Once the submission receives approval, state administrators have the ability to offer loan forgiveness opportunities to educators teaching in shortage area classrooms, assuring they meet the minimum qualifications required.

Visit the TEA website for more information on eligibility and how to apply.

Senate committees meet to study college readiness, teacher pipeline

The Senate Education Committee and the Senate Higher Education Committee met jointly on Tuesday to discuss two interim charges both committees have been tasked with studying: (1) the ongoing implementation of House Bill (HB) 5, which passed in 2013, particularly as it relates to college and workforce readiness; and (2) whether educator preparation programs (EPPs) are properly preparing teachers for the rigors of the classroom, especially in light of teacher shortage areas and retention issues.

ATPE was present at the hearing to monitor discussions on the first charge and testify on the second charge. The hearing consisted of four panels of invited witnesses followed by public testimony. The higher education and public education commissioners presented information on the first charge with respect to the current state of college and workforce readiness in Texas. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath presented data supporting improved college and career readiness as a result of HB 5, with expressed hesitation that it is too soon to tell exactly where things are trending (in large part due to a lag in data collection that became a topic of concern throughout the hearing). Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes was less optimistic, presenting data that showed Texas lagged behind other states in preparing high school students for college.

A second panel of school district, college, and business officials also served as invited witnesses. Significant discussion was had with regard to dual credit courses and a bill last session that expanded high school students’ access to such courses. While some members praised the legislation, others expressed concern about the inconsistency in transferring courses among state institutions. Commissioner Paredes said the rigor of dual-credit courses needs to be reviewed and told members that passing a dual-credit course does not mean a student is college ready, although the state should work toward that goal.

ThinkstockPhotos-178456596_teacherThe remaining two panels were focused on educator preparation, teacher retention, and teacher shortage issues. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) presented information on the current state of teacher demographics in Texas: more than one third of Texas teachers have been in the classroom for five years or less (which is consistent with data for the past 20 years); the average Texas teacher teaches for 11 years (also roughly consistent over the past 20 years); teacher attrition rates have been relatively constant over the past few years, but district turnover rates are especially high in rural districts; Texas hires about 82% of the teachers it produces every year; and the average five year retention rate of teachers produced by traditional universities is 76% versus 66% among alternatively certified teachers. Other invited witnesses expressed alarm with regard to statistics showing that retention rates for teachers in their first or second year and in shortage areas, such as STEM and special education, are lower than the average.

Invited and public testifiers shared comments on the entire teacher pipeline. Witnesses shared methods for addressing these issues at hand through recruitment, preparation, support, and retention. ATPE’s testimony also supported a focus on the entire teacher pipeline and highlighted some proposals we continue to support with regard to addressing the issues of educator preparation and retention.

  • ATPE supports tools that recruit the best and brightest to join the profession, such as loan forgiveness programs, competitive benefits packages, and improved salaries. ATPE also supports raised standards for individuals entering the profession, because raising standards has shown to improve the prestige of the profession and in turn attract more of the best and brightest to enter the profession. It also improves the profession’s ability to demand change.
  • ATPE supports raising standards for all EPPs in order to ensure teachers are properly trained for the rigors of the classroom. Especially in the case of alternative certification providers, where teachers are put into the classroom as the teacher of record after only weeks of training in some cases, it is critical that we ensure teachers are properly prepared to enter the classroom and stay in the profession.
  • ATPE supports incentives for EPPs that serve to fill shortage areas. Those could include financial incentives such as cutting or eliminating programs’ fees or non-monetary incentives such as rewarding programs through the EPP accountability system.
  • ATPE supports mentor and induction programs that support teachers in the initial years of teaching or when they are assigned to teach outside of their certification field. Studies consistently show that such programs have a big impact on retention rates. It is also a small investment for a big return; estimates have suggested the cost of teacher turnover in Texas is as high as $1 billion per year.
  • ATPE supports increased and standardized requirements with regard to the support that EPPs are required to provide to their candidates once they are in the field teaching.
  • ATPE supports adding a measure of teacher quality to the accountability system so that districts are held accountable to progress toward the equitable distribution of quality teachers throughout the district. (Data presented at the hearing showed an inequitable distribution of high quality teachers, a fact that prior research commissioned by ATPE has also shown.)

The full hearing can be viewed here. The Senate Education Committee meets again next month to study another interim charge related to digital learning.

Will Texas join states reconsidering evaluation in light of relaxed federal requirements?

Several state legislatures are taking steps to change their teacher evaluation systems in light of new flexibility available to them under federal law. The issue of how to evaluate or appraise teachers has been a topic of great interest for Texas lawmakers in every recent legislative session. Now that the Texas Education Agency is in the middle of developing and piloting a new state-recommended evaluation model, many are watching to see how a newly-appointed commissioner of education will react and how the current primary election could alter the composition of the 85th Texas legislature that will have power to intervene.

With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December came a reduced emphasis on student growth measures tied to teacher evaluations. Prior to ESSA becoming law, however, many states were tied to requirements pushed by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) under Secretary Arne Duncan’s waiver process. Those waivers specifically required that states seeking waivers, which included Texas, tie teacher evaluation systems to student standardized test scores. States did so in exchange for flexibility from the onerous and outdated policies of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the nation’s previous law governing education that was, at the time, long overdue for a rewrite.

However, the passage of ESSA made the flexibility from NCLB unnecessary and reduced the pressure for states such as Texas to meet federal expectations of educator evaluation systems. In fact, the new law puts no requirements on states’ teacher evaluation systems. It also allows states to use funding to create educator evaluation systems but does not require that states create such a system. This has allowed several states to rethink the teacher evaluation policies previously enacted because of requirements tied to the waivers and NCLB, which was more specific with regard to creating educator evaluation systems.

The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) is an organization focused on enhancing public education within its 16-member region that includes Texas. According to the SREB, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Tennessee all have bills moving through their respective legislatures that would significantly alter their educator evaluations systems. The SREB said that while state lawmakers are primarily looking to provide flexibility to districts, more specifically, some of the states are looking to reduce the amount that student test scores weigh in an educators evaluation. The SREB offers a bill tracker that highlights all relevant bills filed in the board’s member states on this and other topics. Georgia, for instance, has a bill filed that would reduce the use of standardized test scores to no more than 10 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

Last month, ATPE encouraged Education Commissioner Mike Morath to consider delaying the adoption of TEA rules that would solidify the state’s new teacher evaluation system, T-TESS. Particularly, ATPE asked Morath to reconsider a requirement that at least 20 percent of each teacher’s appraisal be based on student growth measures, such as value-added modeling (VAM) using student test scores. The state has yet to say how it plans to proceed, although the rules could be adopted any day.

As you go to the polls during this primary election, remember that the candidates you elect will have the ability to make big decisions about criteria that should be a part of the new teacher evaluation system for Texas going forward. The future of education will be determined by this election in several ways; this is just one. Visit our 2016 Races search page here on Teach the Vote to find out where your candidates stand on major issues such as evaluating teachers and what role standardized tests should play. When you go to the polls, vote for the candidates who support your classroom, students, and profession.

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.