Category Archives: Testing

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 14, 2017

The ATPE state office is closed today in observance of Good Friday. We’ll be back Monday with full coverage of the 85th Legislature and other advocacy news. Here are highlights from this week:


Retirement planning written on a notepad.

On Thursday, April 13, the Texas House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility heard testimony about Social Security offsets in federal law that negatively affect many educators. The hearing was on HCR 101 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) urging Congress to repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the Social Security Act. Learn more about the offsets in current law and how they affect educators here. Although the Texas Legislature does not have the authority to change federal laws, such as those governing Social Security, the measure would be a statement of support from Texas lawmakers for changing the GPO and WEP, which both have the effect of reducing many educators’ benefits. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was among the witnesses who testified for the bill, which was left pending.


Last legislative session, ATPE supported a bill by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) to create alternative pathways for eligible students to graduate without necessarily having passed all required STAAR tests. The law allowing for individual graduation committees to evaluate students’ post-secondary readiness is set to expire on Sept. 1 of this year unless extended. A number of bills have been filed this session to remove the expiration date on the law, including Sen. Seliger’s Senate Bill (SB) 463, which the Senate Education Committee heard this week. Learn more about the legislation, which ATPE supports, in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


Both the House Public Education Committee and Senate Education Committee held meetings this week to discuss numerous education-related bills. Hot topics included educator preparation and certification requirements, reporting teacher misconduct, virtual schools, and special education services. For a complete wrap-up of this week’s hearings, check out these blog posts by ATPE’s lobbyists:


Girl showing bank notesNext week in the Texas Legislature, the House of Representatives has scheduled a floor debate for Wednesday, April 19, on House Bill (HB) 21. That’s the high-profile school finance reform bill by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) that we’ve written about here on our blog. The Senate Education Committee is also hearing a number of bills dealing with school finance during its next hearing on Tuesday, April 18.

Over in the House Public Education Committee, next Tuesday’s meeting will cover proposed legislation on broad topics ranging from curriculum standards to UIL. The House committee will also consider HB 306 by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), a companion bill to SB 179 that would create “David’s Law” aimed at curbing cyberbullying and harassment that leads to suicide. ATPE offered support for the Senate version of the bill during a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing last week.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is also meeting next week. Its four-day meeting begins Tuesday and will feature testimony and discussions of proposed changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for science and English language arts and reading. View the complete SBOE agenda here and stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog and @TeachtheVote on Twitter next week for updates.



The Texas Legislature looks to renew graduation committees

ThinkstockPhotos-111939554The Senate Education Committee is meeting today to discuss an issue that received a lot of attention and support during the last legislative session. The bill, filed and passed by Senator Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), created individual graduation committees, an option by which otherwise qualified students can be considered for graduation despite failure to pass up to two required state standardized tests. Senator Seliger and Representative Dan Huberty (R-Humble), who carried the companion bill and ushered the bill through the Texas House, passed their individual graduation committee bill as a two-year trial run; Sen. Seliger is back this session with a bill to extend the law.

Senate Bill (SB) 463 would provide an alternative path to graduation for future students who struggle to pass up to two required standardized tests but who otherwise prove themselves as having mastered the subject(s). The bill would allow a committee of educators and the student’s parent(s) to create a graduation committee to weigh all of the factors that otherwise showcase the student’s success. Students qualify for the committee review route based on a variety of factors beyond the test that showcase mastery of the subject(s). ATPE supports the bill extending the use of such committees, because we recognize that many students cannot be defined by their ability to pass “the” test and that testing struggles should not inhibit a student’s future success.

The Senate Education Committee will also take up a bill pertaining to educator preparation, a topic heavily discussed yesterday in the House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality. Look for more from both committees!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 3, 2017

Happy Friday! Here’s a look at this week’s education news highlights:


The full U.S. Senate is expected to vote Monday on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos to become Secretary of Education. DeVos arguably has been President Donald Trump’s most controversial cabinet pick. As proof of just how much disagreement exists over DeVos, Monday’s vote is predicted to come down to a 50-50 split, forcing Vice President Mike Pence to cast a rare tie-breaking vote to confirm the nominee. Read more in this most recent blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, and visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central if you’d like to send a message this weekend to U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) about Betsy DeVos. (Member login is required to access Advocacy Central.)


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was there to cover all the action. Check out Mark’s latest blog post about new committee assignments for the board members, changes that are in the works to some curriculum standards, charter school finances, and more.


For months, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been touting his major private school voucher legislation that will be pushed hard this legislative session. This week we finally got the first look at his signature voucher bill for 2017, which is Senate Bill 3 being carried by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill filed on Monday calls for both corporate tax credit “scholarships” for private schools, as well as education savings accounts (ESAs). The latter would offer a debit card for parents, pre-funded with taxpayer dollars to be used for private school tuition, home school costs, or even college savings.

On more positive note, Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) this week filed a new bill aimed at reducing standardized testing. House Bill 1333 calls for delinking teacher evaluations from student test scores, but the measure would also require Texas to seek a waiver of federal laws that require several tests currently administered to students starting in grade three and moving through the high school grades.


Stay tuned next week as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will offer an in-depth look at SB 3 and the voucher debate for our blog. We’ll also have more on the newly filed testing bill, HB 1333. ATPE members can read more about these bills and all our legislative priorities over on Advocacy Central.


ThinkstockPhotos-99674144Governor Greg Abbott delivered his State of the State address to a joint session of the 85th Legislature on Tuesday. It was an opportunity for the governor to share his declared “emergency items” earmarked for earliest consideration this session, but no education issues made that list. The governor did still talk about some legislative priorities of his that relate to education.

Gov. Abbott urged lawmakers to work on an overhaul of the beleaguered school finance system and reiterated his strong support for pre-K programs, as long as they are done the “right” way. He also encouraged lawmakers to do something about the small number of teachers who’ve engaged in inappropriate relationships with students and strengthen reporting laws to address school administrations that have allowed some of those individuals to move on to jobs in other districts rather than being excised from the profession permanently.

Unfortunately, the governor also expressed support for private school voucher legislation and praised two lawmakers who have filed bills to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues. Adding his voice to those spreading misinformation about the payroll deduction issue, Gov. Abbott stated, “Taxpayer resources should not be used for that.” ATPE and other groups have pointed out that payroll deduction for association dues produces no cost to taxpayers. State law even specifically authorizes school districts to charge associations like ATPE a fee if any such costs ever did arise.

The governor’s reference to taxpayer burdens that don’t exist is yet another example of the misleading information being spread about these two so-called “union dues” bills. The bills are being pushed mainly by business groups that have complained vociferously about anti-business activities by certain organized labor unions. But the bills filed, Senate Bill 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and House Bill 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), have no impact on private businesses whatsoever.

This week, Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) signed on as a co-author of Senate Bill 13, joining a handful of other senators backing the bill. The House version includes two co-authors: Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) and Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound).

Both of these bills unfairly target educators for retaliation against their decisions to join professional associations like ATPE. While being touted as “union dues” bills, the measures actually affect groups that aren’t unionized, including ATPE, and they specifically exempt certain other public employees who would continue to benefit from payroll deduction for their union dues. The decision to single out educators while exempting other public employees highlights the political and discriminatory nature of these bills, which are clearly meant to silence the voices of educators on hot-button issues like private school vouchers, public pension reform, testing and accountability, and labeling public schools as failures.

Educators are urged to send messages to their lawmakers about these harmful payroll deduction bills that are tied directly to other legislative efforts to destroy public education. It’s easy for ATPE members to send a message, call, tweet, or communicate with lawmakers via Facebook using our communication tools at Advocacy Central.


ATPE members, today is your last day to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event scheduled for March 5-6, 2017, at the Renaissance Austin Hotel and the Texas State Capitol. Be sure to sign up for our political involvement training and lobby day activities here, and don’t forget to book your hotel rooms and submit any requests for travel incentives by today, too. (ATPE member login is required to register for ATPE at the Capitol. Contact the ATPE state office if you need assistance logging in.)

Our training event on Sunday, March 5, features an opening keynote address by John Kuhn, presentations by the ATPE lobbyists, and a panel discussion with legislative leaders sharing their perspectives on the issues. Our website includes a schedule for Senate meetings and more details. Check it all out here. We look forward to seeing hundreds of ATPE members next month in Austin!

Texas gets a sneak peek at new A-F campus accountability grades

skd282694sdcToday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) rolled out its long-anticipated list of preliminary ratings under the “A through F” accountability system set to grade schools and districts beginning in the 2017-18 school year. After the passage of House Bill 2804 last session, the current accountability system that rates schools and districts as either “met standard” or “needs improvement” will be replaced by one that assigns letter grades of A, B, C, D, or F across five domains and appoints an overall score. The letter grades released today for campuses across Texas are intended to provide a preview of how schools might fare under the new system once it is fully implemented next year. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath issued a press release today calling this week’s preliminary grade report a “work-in-progress.”

Under the new accountability system, the domains of Student Achievement, Student Progress, and Closing Performance Gaps are all based on STAAR test results and account for 55 percent of a school’s or district’s overall grade. The fourth domain, Postsecondary Readiness, will be based on sets of criteria, such as chronic absenteeism and graduation rates, that vary by grade level. Schools and districts will be allowed to grade themselves in the fifth domain of Community and Student Engagement. The cumulative results of all five domains will be used for the purpose of designating an overall letter grade.

We know students’ standardized test scores are being used inappropriately for many high-stakes purposes, and this kicks things up to a whole new level. It obscures and oversimplifies the multitude of things that go into judging how a school is doing. It relies too much on flawed tests – and the kids end up having to bear the stigma of failure.

The numbers provided by TEA accompanying the preliminary grades show economically disadvantaged campuses are likely to fare the worst under this system by far. Under the “what if” campus grades shared this week, 89 percent of schools serving fewer than 20 percent economically disadvantaged students scored an “A” or “B” in the first domain, while 57 percent of schools with the poorest student bodies scored a “D” or “F.” While schools serving the most affluent populations don’t perform as well in domain two, which measures growth, they still outperform schools serving the least privileged students with only an 8 percent D or F rating compared to a 39 percent D or F rating. So with all their other challenges, systemically underfunded schools serving the state’s most challenging populations get to be stigmatized as well under the system that will be put in place next year.

ThinkstockPhotos-478554066_F gradeHow will that help those students perform better, or those schools attract the high-caliber teachers they need? The political environment here can’t be overlooked.

According to actual accountability ratings released in August 2016, 94 percent of Texas schools earned the “met standard” designation. That tells us what we already know: The vast majority of Texas schools are performing well. Yet under the new system being previewed this week, more than half of Texas schools in each domain scored a C, D, or F. Suddenly, we have a metric that seems to black the eyes of established well-performing schools – just days before we head into a legislative session in which voucher proponents will try to sell voters on the myth that our schools are failing.

With bipartisan support, the Virginia state government recently overturned that state’s A through F system. The bill’s author, a Republican who initially voted for the system, acknowledged the stigmatization of schools as a reason for upending the law. He also said the system would make it hard for schools to recruit teachers, among other things.

On Thursday, state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) filed House Bill 843, which would repeal A through F and replace it with the labels Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable, and Needs Improvement.

“There is a dangerous domino effect here — the failing label causes stigmatization and punitive action to schools and their community, which does nothing to promote improvement,” Rep. González said in a press release Friday. “This harmful effect makes repealing A-F urgent and necessary.”

ATPE supports a robust accountability system that gives parents meaningful and unambiguous information, avoids too much reliance on flawed standardized tests, and takes into consideration important factors such as funding inequities and the importance of having well-trained, certified teachers. We strongly opposed the move to “A through F” grades when it was proposed by the 84th Texas Legislature in 2015 and even suggested alternative scoring rubrics and report cards for campuses, which lawmakers unfortunately declined to consider at the time.

Our hope is that the release of these “informational” campus accountability grades this week, however hypothetical they are intended to be, will eventually serve as a wake-up call for the need to enact meaningful testing and accountability reforms that will support rather than penalize the hardworking students and staff in our Texas public schools.

Analysis of the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability recommendations

ThinkstockPhotos-111939554As reported on Teach the Vote Last week, the Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability has released its final recommendations and considerations for further study. Below are ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s comments on the commission’s recommendations.

Click on each recommendation below to view ATPE’s analysis.

Final Recommendations of the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (TCONGAA):

  1. Implement an Individualized, Integrated System of Multiple Assessments Using Computerized-Adaptive Testing and Instruction.
  2. Allow the Commissioner of Education to Approve Locally Developed Writing Assessments.
  3. Support the Continued Streamlining of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
  4. Limit State Testing to the Readiness Standards.
  5. Add College-Readiness Assessments to the Domain IV (Postsecondary Readiness) Indicators and Fund, with State Resources, a Broader Administration of College-Readiness Assessments.
  6. Align the State Accountability System with ESSA Requirements.
  7. Eliminate Domain IV (Postsecondary Readiness) from State Accountability Calculations for Elementary Schools.
  8. Place Greater Emphasis on Growth in Domains I–III in the State Accountability System.
  9. Retain the Individual Graduation Committee (IGC) Option for Graduation as Allowed by TEC, §28.0258

1. Implement an Individualized, Integrated System of Multiple Assessments Using Computerized-Adaptive Testing and Instruction.

Recommendation one, potentially the most sweeping of the commission’s recommendations, breaks down into two main parts: computer adaptive testing (CAT) and a multiple assessment framework. Each part has pros and cons.

As its name suggests, CAT refers to an assessment administered via computer that varies (adapts) as the test taker answers questions. The more questions the tester gets right, the harder subsequent test questions become; the less questions the tester gets right, the easier subsequent test questions become. Unlike a grade level specific proficiency test (such as STAAR) that simply indicates whether or not a student meets grade level proficiency, CAT should give a much clearer picture of where along a broader spectrum a student is performing. These tests are, at least in theory, better for measuring growth and better for more precisely identifying proficiency levels of high-achieving and low-achieving students. Those attributes likely make CAT a superior type of assessment as compared to current STAAR tests, particularly since our accountability system values student growth data. The biggest hurdle (I won’t even call it a con) to moving from STAAR to a CAT is technology infrastructure. Under current test security protocols, which require essentially all students statewide to take a particular test simultaneously, all students would need access to a screen, keyboard, and either the web or a state- (maybe district-) level network, in order to take the assessment.

While the state could lessen the hardware requirement by modifying test security protocols so that kids could take the test in batches (a potential scheduling nightmare that could seriously waste instructional time if not implemented exceedingly well), the networking capacity is a fairly immutable requirement. Thankfully the federal government has solved this problem for us if the state acts quickly. For a short window of time, the federal E-rate program is offering a 9:1 match on state dollars to increase physical network capacity in exactly the way we need to increase ours. So if the state will put in $25 million, the feds will put in $225 million and we can dramatically increase our broadband capacity for underserved communities. This would be a big plus whether or not we move to CATs.

That all sounds great, but CAT is not a panacea. Using CAT does not ensure that the test questions will be written in a fair, direct, or developmentally appropriate way, a major criticism of the current test. CAT, in and of itself, also doesn’t solve the issue of overreliance on a single measurement. Currently the state almost exclusively relies on standardized testing data as a proxy for overall student performance, but such data at best provides a fairly narrow window on student knowledge or ability.

This leads to the second half of the recommendation where the commission recommends using multiple smaller assessments administered closer to the time concepts are actually taught. Those tests would be rolled up into a single summative score as opposed to the one-test-on-one-day model that STAAR currently utilizes. There are definitely potential pros to going with this recommendation, primarily that it would likely decrease the perceived impact of the test and therefore student stress levels. By breaking the assessment process into smaller, more manageable tests and spreading them over the full course of the school year, state standardized assessments could become more normalized, instead of a once-a-year event that students have to psych themselves up for (or psych themselves out about). Smaller tests could also lead to less test fatigue, giving students a better chance at doing their best work on the whole test.

If while reading the last paragraph you were thinking to yourself that this sounds a lot like the pop quizzes and smaller unit tests that teachers have been using to assess student comprehension since before your grandparents were born (i.e. formative testing), you would be right. That teachers should, and almost universally are, already using formative testing as an important part of their instructional practice did not escape the proponents of this recommendation. They feel that this recommendation will reduce the overall amount of testing because it could replace a summative test (STAAR) with a summative result that uses assessments already happening in most classrooms.

There are, unfortunately, three main concerns with this line of thought. To start, is formative assessment data appropriate for deriving summative conclusions? There is at least some indication that the answer to that question is no. The invited expert that testified before the commission cautioned against using formative assessments to draw summative conclusions. Formative assessments, by their nature, are designed to determine where a student is on a particular skill while still inside the learning process. The expectation is that the educator will use the information gleaned from the assessment and continue to perfect the students’ understanding of the skills tested. This is different from a summative assessment where a student is supposed to demonstrate mastery of an already learned skill. This distinction creates potential problems with using formative data for accountability purposes, as the student would not be expected to have attained mastery yet.

Assuming you get past this first concern, you then have to ask whether or not it’s really a benefit to subject these inherently individualized assessments to a state-level standardization process? One of the primary complaints of the current system is separation of teachers and teaching from development and administration of the test. Developing assessments that flow naturally from the curriculum being taught that are also contextually and developmentally appropriate for the class of students being assessed is a skill that must be honed, something the state should be helping teachers do. When you disassociate teaching and testing by removing the teacher from the assessment process, the result is negative from both an assessment and a curriculum stand point. From an assessment standpoint, a standardized test is by its nature less contextually and developmentally individualized to the students actually taking the test. If the goal is to ensure educators have the most accurate information about their students’ acquisition of the skills being taught verses a measure of their students’ ability to cope with a standardized testing instrument as compared to all other students in the state, teacher-developed assessments are preferable. Assessments measuring a standard set of state-determined skills and individualized to the group of students being taught, give students the best opportunity to demonstrate mastery of those skills. Contrarily, standardized tests measure a student’s ability to cope with a testing instrument in addition to the mastery of skills.

Finally, even if you overlook these concerns, the committee did not call for the replacement of STAAR with this system. While the initial recommendation called for replacing STAAR with a new multiple-assessment CAT framework, that language was ultimately removed. The recommendation now reads like more of an addition to STAAR instead of a replacement of it. It’s questionable whether or not we need a massive new statewide standardized assessment system to replace our existing massive statewide standardized assessment system. It is certain that we do not need a new system in addition to the current one.

2. Allow the Commissioner of Education to Approve Locally Developed Writing Assessments.

Commission recommendation number two is a solid recommendation which addresses the substantial and specific problem of replacing the current, extremely poorly designed, STAAR writing test. The recommendation, which was primarily driven by Chairman Aycock, recognizes that writing is a process-driven, highly individual skill that is not well assessed through an overly standardized process. The evaluation of writing ability should not rely on a testing scheme that produces a work product absent of any meaningful review and revision by the student, nor should a student’s writing evaluation be graded by non-experts using a rubric.

The recommendation will allow districts to develop a process that takes a more comprehensive and holistic look at students’ writing skills. Districts can utilize the professional judgment of credentialed educators to assess the students’ work rather than utilizing low-paid graders with uncertain qualifications that use a rubric to judge student work developed under an inherently flawed process.

3. Support the Continued Streamlining of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

Allowing the continued streamlining of the TEKS is a fine recommendation, but with no suggestion as to how the SBOE might improve the TEKS writing process, it is also a shallow and somewhat meaningless recommendation. Recommendations on how the SBOE can write deeper, but more manageable TEKS or how the legislature might support the SBOE in this process (this recommendation includes no recommended statutory changes) would be much more beneficial.

There are inherent tensions that need to be addressed in the TEKS writing process. These include the relationship of the length of the standards to the length of the test, the creation of standards that allow for depth and creativity for both students and educators while giving new and inexperienced educators the support they need to teach subject matter they may not be fully versed in yet, and the tension between developing standards that are better for testing (discrete and many) versus teaching (topical and naturally fewer). It would have been preferable if the recommendation called for the SBOE to modify their TEKS writing process, either internally or with legislative direction, to create two documents: one that identifies only the broader areas of essential knowledge, which would be identified as the State Standards, and a separate supporting document with detailed examples of how a practitioner might structure curriculum to cover those broad areas.

4. Limit State Testing to the Readiness Standards.

While this recommendation seems appealing and simple, it is in fact a poor substitute for actually perfecting a better TEKS drafting process. Like the one mentioned above, it also happens to be outside of what is allowable under federal law, which requires that a state assess all of its standards in the areas required to be tested.

5. Add College-Readiness Assessments to the Domain IV (Postsecondary Readiness) Indicators and Fund, with State Resources, a Broader Administration of College-Readiness Assessments.

Increasing opportunities for students to be exposed to the possibility of pursuing post-secondary education is always a worthwhile goal. The state should fund these test administrations at a greater rate than it already is, and districts should absolutely be rewarded for encouraging as many students as possible to take college entrance exams and for assisting students to perform well on them. 

On a cautionary note legislators should be mindful not to design a system which encourages districts to discourage lower-performing students from taking them. A system which punishes districts for lower SAT/ACT scores or that does not reward districts for increased participation rates would have a negative effect on increasing student access to postsecondary opportunities.

6. Align the State Accountability System with ESSA Requirements.

This recommendation calls for a response of: well, duh. One would certainly hope that the state would align its system with federal requirements, particularly when the new federal law was written with state driven accountability in mind.

7. Eliminate Domain IV (Postsecondary Readiness) from State Accountability Calculations for Elementary Schools.

Whether or not attendance rates should be removed from the accountability system simply because nearly all schools are doing an exceedingly good job on the metric is debatable. However, to say that the state can find no “indicators of student achievement [that lead to post-secondary readiness and are] not associated with performance on standardized assessments,” is a shocking statement. 

Clearly the state is willing to recognize that being present in class is an indicator of student achievement that leads to post-secondary readiness. (It is simple loathe to give credit to everyone for accomplishing that measure as it doesn’t produce differentiation, i.e. universal success doesn’t create much of a bell curve). However, despite study after study pointing to the fact that the quality (relevant experience plus innate ability) of a student’s teachers is the single best indicator of a student’s long term academic success, the state/legislature/commissioner/this commission still refuses to hold districts accountable for equitable distribution of quality educators. While such a measure may not be an appropriate metric for campus level accountability ratings, it is certainly applicable and appropriate at both the elementary and secondary levels as part of the district-wide accountability rating.

8. Place Greater Emphasis on Growth in Domains I–III in the State Accountability System.

In the abstract, emphasizing student growth as a preeminent goal of the education system sounds great and is great. However in reality, it is the nature of the system that high performing students are hard pressed to show exponential growth on a grade level specific minimum standards test. It is equally true that low performing students, while they may or may not show exponential growth, are less likely to show proficiency on the same test. One has to assume that is why the current accountability system allows campuses or districts to pass either domain one or two (proficiency or growth) in addition to both domains three and four to be considered to have met standard. Assuming the commissioner takes this recommendation, it will be interesting to see how he both meaningfully increases the emphasis on growth and maintains the delicate and appropriate balance that is currently being achieved.

On a side note, it is important to continue to recognize that our testing system is not optimized/designed to measure student growth and that using it to do so is somewhat dubious at best.

9. Retain the Individual Graduation Committee (IGC) Option for Graduation as Allowed by TEC, §28.0258.

While it should be recognized that these committees are not a substitute for fixing what is broken in the current assessment and accountability system, they should certainly continue to exist, at least while the system continues to be broken and perhaps indefinitely as a valuable student safety net.




Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 2, 2016

Here are some stories that made education news this week as you started your new school year:


committee-sealThe U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, which oversees Social Security legislation at the federal level, has shared new blog information on the unfairness of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and why it needs to be overhauled by Congress. Committee chairman Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) are now inviting educators, firefighters, and other public employees affected by the WEP to share stories about how they’ve been affected by this unfair provision in law. We at ATPE encourage Texas educators to share their stories with congressional leaders by emailing them to and also check out the committee’s useful new infographics and WEP data here.


The Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (TCONGAA) has finalized its recommendations and considerations for further study to the governor and state legislature. The commission’s final recommendations include the following:

  1. Implement an Individualized, Integrated System of Multiple Assessments Using Computerized-Adaptive Testing and Instruction.
  2. Allow the Commissioner of Education to Approve Locally Developed Writing Assessments.
  3. Support the Continued Streamlining of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
  4. Limit State Testing to the Readiness Standards.
  5. Add College-Readiness Assessments to the Domain IV (Postsecondary Readiness) Indicators and Fund, with State Resources, a Broader Administration of College-Readiness Assessments.
  6. Align the State Accountability System with ESSA Requirements.
  7. Eliminate Domain IV (Postsecondary Readiness) from State Accountability Calculations for Elementary Schools.
  8. Place Greater Emphasis on Growth in Domains I–III in the State Accountability System.
  9. Retain the Individual Graduation Committee (IGC) Option for Graduation as Allowed by TEC, §28.0258.

View the commission’s full report here. Stay tuned next week on our Teach the Vote blog as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will provide complete analysis and our association’s reaction to each of these nine recommendations.



Josh Sanderson

It’s a bittersweet day for ATPE as we bid farewell to one of our veteran team members. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson is leaving his post in our Governmental Relations department today to become Associate Deputy Executive Director for the Equity Center, a Texas non-profit organization that advocates for school finance equity and adequate public education funding. We at ATPE are grateful to Josh for his decade of outstanding service to our organization, and we wish him all the best in his new endeavors with one of our most respected education allies.


Have a safe and relaxing Labor Day Weekend!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 26, 2016

Here’s a look at some stories that made news this week in the world of Texas education:

ThinkstockPhotos-185034697_gavelcashTexas’s much-maligned standardized tests were once again the focus of media attention this week. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced this week that it is imposing harsh financial penalties against the vendor that administers the state’s STAAR tests after a number of problems occurred during test administrations this spring. Also this week, a judge assigned to a lawsuit filed by parents objecting to the STAAR test refused to grant the state’s motion to have that case dismissed. Read more about the latest STAAR-related developments in this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. Exter also discussed the testing company fines in an interview with KVUE News, which you can view here.


Texas lawmakers involved in the biennial budget-writing process are starting to look more closely at education funding as the 85th legislative session approaches. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson and ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended a meeting this week of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Article III, which oversees the education portion of the state budget. Wednesday’s hearing was a discussion of an interim charge dealing with public education programs that are funded outside the Foundation School Program (FSP). Learn more about the hearing in our blog post from yesterday.


ATPE_Logo_Stacked_Tag_ColorATPE members and employees have been showcased in a number of media features this week with the start of a new school year. Round Rock ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe talked to KEYE TV in Austin about how she engages students using popular “Pokemon Go” characters. Stoebe also joined ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey on Time Warner Cable Austin to discuss how the use of technology in the classroom can also increase opportunities for bullying. They urged educators and parents to talk to children about the risks of cyberbullying, which some lawmakers hope to address in the upcoming legislative session. Also on TWC news, a number of ATPE members contributed to a recent story about how teachers can talk to their students about difficult currrent events, such as problems of racism and violent attacks. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter also talked to KSAT about new education laws that are taking effect this school year. Be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter and ATPE on Facebook for coverage of these and other stories about how ATPE members are making a difference in the lives of students.



An eventful week for STAAR

In a statement released yesterday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced just short of $21 million  in penalties against the state’s new testing vendor, ETS. The company will have to fork over $5.7 million in fines and spend $15 million of its own funds on improvements related to a number of failures of the testing system during the last school year. To put the $21 million in penalties into context, ETS’s STAAR contract with the state is worth $280 million over a four-year period. The areas to be improved include online testing system enrollment; shipping; online testing; precoding; and scoring and reporting. ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavel

In other STAAR related news, District Judge Stephen Yelenosky this Monday denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought against it by a group of parents over continued dissatisfaction with STAAR testing. The state claimed that the parents lacked standing to bring the suit. Judge Yelenosky disagreed with that argument, and the case will move forward.

The lawsuit against the education agency seeks to invalidate the 2015-16 STAAR scores and is based on the premise that the exams were not administered in compliance with House Bill 743 (2015) by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble). That bill passed last session requires the state to design STAAR exams so that a majority of elementary and middle school students can complete them within a specific time frame. The time standard is two hours for third- through fifth-graders, or three hours for sixth- through eighth-graders. TEA has maintained that it needs more time to collect test-related data before the exams can be redesigned.

TEA’s statement on the ETS penalties announced this week can be found here.

For more on the STAAR-related lawsuit, check out this article from the Texas Tribune.

Senate committee discusses potential for “performance-based” funding of public schools

ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann provided this report for Teach the Vote.

The Senate education committee met yesterday, Aug. 5, to discuss the following two interim charges that the committee is expected to study and report on prior to the legislature’s reconvening in January:

  • Conduct a comprehensive performance review of all public schools in Texas, examining ways to improve efficiency, productivity, and student academic outcomes. Study performance-based funding mechanisms that allocate dollars based upon achievement versus attendance. Identify any state mandates which hinder student performance, district and campus innovation, and efficiency and productivity overall.
  • Examine the structure and performance of the two remaining county-based school systems, Harris County Department of Education and Dallas County Schools. In particular, study the efficiency of these entities and determine whether those services are duplicative with education service centers or could be absorbed by education service centers.

ATPE attended the hearing with a focus on the first charge and was eager to hear the discussion surrounding how exactly the committee intended to study the idea of “performance-based funding.”  The invited panel of testifiers included representatives from the Equity Center, the Education Resource Group, Knowledge Works, and the Smart Schools Initiative, which we’ve reported on previously and is funded by former Comptroller Susan Combs. The committee and panel members approached the charge with a focus on finding ways to improve “productivity” in Texas public schools.

ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_money“Productivity” is a great-sounding buzz word, particularly in business, and financially incentivizing districts that perform well academically with their given resources sounds useful on the surface; but neither public schools nor school finance can be boiled down this simply. While we haven’t seen a true proposal for a performance-based funding system, we at ATPE are concerned that it could expect low-performing districts to improve while being allocated fewer resources. This is despite the fact that many of these districts are deemed low-performing based on STAAR scores because they are currently under-resourced to serve their higher percentage of harder- and more-expensive-to-teach student populations. We should not be taking resources away from low-performing schools; we should be focusing more available resources in their direction.

Such a system is especially concerning because of the fact that the seemingly agreed upon metric for performance is the increasingly less-trusted state standardized test, STAAR. The idea of basing the state’s school funding formula on the STAAR test only raises the high stakes already associated with the test, when state and federal lawmakers, parents, and stakeholders alike have agreed that such high stakes should be reduced.

There is more to come on how the “performance-based funding” discussion will play out. Stay tuned to the Teach the Vote.

Related content: ATPE’s Monty Exter was quoted in The Texas Observer’s article about yesterday’s hearing.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 29, 2016

Here is this week’s recap of federal and state education developments:


This week, Governor Greg Abbott appointed four new members to serve on the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), replacing outgoing members whose terms expired last year but remained on the board until the appointments were made. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports that Rohanna Brooks-Sykes, a counselor at Klein High School; Arturo J. “Art” Cavazos, superintendent for the Harlingen CISD; Sandie Mullins Moger, a former Houston Community College Trustee who will serve as a public member; and Laurie J. Turner, an American history teacher at Gregory-Portland Junior High School, will all begin their terms set to expire in 2021 next week when SBEC convenes for its August meeting.


Brad Allard

Among the outgoing board members are Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Bonnie Cain, the current chair of the board. The board elects its own chair and is expected to conduct that election at a future board meeting after the new appointees are sworn in as SBEC members. Jill Druesedow, the board’s vice-chair and a teacher at Haskell High School, will oversee meetings until a new chair is elected. Also on the list of outgoing members is ATPE member and Burleson teacher Brad Allard. ATPE thanks Brad and all of the outgoing members for their service to the profession and wishes Brad the best in his retirement!

SBEC will hold its next meeting a week from today. Stay tuned for an update on that meeting and other SBEC developments.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) notified stakeholders earlier this week of new guidance released by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youths program, which was reauthorized and amended under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The guidance is a part of a series of documents that ED intends to release in an effort to assist states and districts as they seek to understand and implement the new federal law.

Among the new requirements, states and districts will be required to identify the graduation rates of homeless student populations, provide professional development, ensure access to support services for preschool-aged homeless children, maintain privacy of student records, and expand school stability services such as transportation. The Department also released a fact sheet covering expanded information on how teachers, principals, counselors, and other staff can support homeless youth.

View ED’s fact sheet and guidance on this and other ESSA provisions for more information.

ThinkstockPhotos-111939554The Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability held its final meeting on Wednesday, July 27, to vote on recommendations to the 85th legislature for changes to our state’s accountability system and student testing. Despite early indications that the commission might recommend scrapping the state’s unpopular STAAR tests, commission members ultimately opted for a different route. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended and reported on this week’s final meeting. For more on the commission’s vote, check out the coverage from our friends at The Texas Tribune, republished here.

Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundThe country’s two primary political parties have released and approved their respective party platforms, documents that assert the party’s principle policy goals and guide party members’ policymaking at all levels of government. On education, the party platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties differ greatly. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has provided a comparison of the two party platforms here.

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met today, and ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson provided the following update. The board met in part to continue discussions on the budget request that TRS will submit to the legislature when it convenes for the 2017 biennial session in January. TRS projects public education aggregate compensation to increase by 3.5% over the 2018-19 biennium, and as such is requesting that the required additional funding be appropriated to pay the state’s 6.8% contribution to the pension trust fund. This is a common occurrence as long as schools are hiring staff to accommodate the increasing student population, but there have been years in the recent past where payroll was projected to remain flat, largely because of state budget cuts. As long as there is no political manipulation of the assumption values TRS uses to calculate the status of the fund, the trust fund remains healthy. However, there have already been proposals made by political appointees that would potentially unfairly harm TRS. ATPE is working to ensure that your benefits are accurately calculated and that the state meets its end of the bargain in contributing to your retirement and health care benefits. As it relates to health care, legislative interim committee reports are expected to be released soon, and after submitting testimony to the committee appointed to work on active and retiree health insurance issues, we are hopeful that elected officials will include our request to increase state investment in both plans to equal that of other private and public plans.

Next week, the Senate Education Committee holds an interim hearing on August 3 at which the topic will be “a comprehensive performance review of all public schools in Texas, examining ways to improve efficiency, productivity, and student academic outcomes.” The discussions will include performance-based funding and “mandates,” along with an examination of the effectiveness of the state’s only two county-based school systems in the counties of Harris and Dallas. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates next week on this and other upcoming interim hearings.