Category Archives: Testing

Morath suggests developing school safety building standards in SBOE update

The State Board of Education (SBOE) began its Wednesday meeting with a regularly scheduled update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. The commissioner touched on a lengthy list of issues, including the agency’s response to recent disasters.

SBOE hears update from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath on June 13, 2018.

The first item Morath discussed was the agency’s follow-up on the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. The agency issued letter to administrators Friday apprising them of steps that could be immediately taken to improve school safety in the near term.

“There’s no such thing as perfect safety,” said Morath, adding, “But there are reasonable steps that can be taken.”

The commissioner acknowledged the difficulty and expense of securing more than 8,600 campuses across the state, but offered a list of specific steps the agency believes may be useful. These steps include increasing law enforcement support, and using more school marshals in rural schools where hiring more officers may not be an option. Training for marshals is now freely available all summer long, and likely will be for some time. Morath noted that teachers are not the only staff members who may be marshals. The commissioner acknowledged that marshals won’t be a useful option everywhere.

In addition, the agency recommended administrators review the threat assessment report compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in response to the Columbine shootings. Furthermore, districts are advised to coordinate with local law enforcement organizations to encourage officers to use schools for their restroom and break stops in order to increase the visible presence of law enforcement on campus.

The agency’s most recent action in response to Hurricane Harvey was the release of state accountability rating adjustments for districts impacted by the historic storm. In prior storms, schools at which classes were canceled for ten or more days were subject to a “not rated” provision. Due to scope of Hurricane Harvey, the criteria were expanded to include campuses that were relocated, campuses to which relocated students were transferred, and campuses where ten percent of students or staff were forced from their homes. These campuses will be labeled as “met standard” unless they were due to receive an “improvement required” rating. In those cases, campuses will be labeled “not rated.” Similar criteria were applied for district-level ratings.

The commissioner approved four new charter school applicants, which will be subject to the board’s approval this week. The four were the only applicants to advance from a pool of 21 interested parties. Morath compared the vetting process to that commonly employed by venture capital or angel investors. Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) expressed concern that one of the schools up for consideration plans to subject prospective students to criminal background checks. Cortez also criticized what he characterized as misleading marketing on the part of one applicant regarding teacher-student ratios.

Regarding assessments, Morath updated the board on what has been a frustrating year after what he called a “high-water mark” for successful test administration in 2017. Nearly 42,000 students who were testing online experienced a 20-minute connectivity slowdown in April, followed by a slowdown in May that affected roughly 59,000 students. This group of students will be taken into account in this year’s campus and district ratings. Morath waived 5th and 8th Grade student success initiative (SSI) requirements for affected students, but noted the commissioner does not have waiver authority over end-of-course (EOC) exams. Morath added it’s conceivable that some students may have been attempting to pass a third EOC after multiple retakes, but probably numbered fewer than a dozen. In response to the glitches, the agency has assessed liquidated damages in the amount of $100,000 to test administrator ETS.

The agency also released accountability rules for the “A through F” ratings framework under House Bill (HB) 22 and has made some changes based upon feedback from stakeholders. The agency doubled the weighting of high school graduation rates under Domain I: Student Achievement to 20 percent of the score. Under the career, college and military readiness (CCM-R) indicators, TEA added credit for the completion of dual credit courses and added partial credit for students who complete a coherent sequence of courses aligned with industry certification. The agency also adjusted the relative performance curve under Domain II: School Progress. Districts will be rated under the A-F system this year, and campus A-F ratings will be released in 2019.

Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) praised TEA for its response to both Hurricane Harvey and the Santa Fe shooting. Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) asked about adapting mental health first aid training to students and adding it to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for health. Morath said educators are asking for more mental health training after the Santa Fe incident.

Member Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio) asked about schools using a single point of entry like airports, though acknowledging that strategy may not be effective in high schools, where students are often spread across multiple buildings. Morath told the board there is no one approach that can fix everything and solutions will depend heavily on local context. The commissioner expressed interest in convening architects and school administrators to develop recommended practices for the construction of safe school buildings, much like architects have developed for designating the environmental friendliness of buildings.

The board’s Wednesday agenda includes a review of the long-term strategic asset allocation plan for the permanent school fund (PSF).

School finance commission talks about teacher supports

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday in Austin for a discussion on English learners. Opening the meeting, commission Chair Scott Brister urged the working groups assigned to study different aspects of school finance to be specific in the recommendations they make. In particular, Brister said the commission should strive to reach a consensus on the numbers: How much is the state spending on public education? Is it raising or cutting funding? Should textbooks be included in the cost of education?

School finance commission meeting June 5, 2018.

It’s important to note that most of these numbers are readily available from the Legislative Budget Board and are not in dispute. The disagreement has arisen as a result of some witnesses and commission members attempting to use alternative calculations that are not used in state accounting documents, usually in an attempt to inflate spending figures. Part of the argument used by those hoping to privatize public education is that the state spends enough on public schools already. Compared to other states, Texas ranks in the bottom 10 in per-pupil spending.

The English learners discussion began with invited witnesses pointing out the benefits of dual-language programs over traditional English as a Second Language (ESL) models. Texas has a high percentage of English learners, who benefit the most from strong language instruction early in their academic careers. Students who don’t become proficient in English in elementary school are increasingly likely to struggle later on, and are at a higher risk of failing to graduate. Chair Brister expressed concern over the cost of high-quality programs for English learners. Conversely, state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) warned of the future costs of failing to ensure students successfully learn English.

A witness from the Mark Twain Dual Language Academy in San Antonio explained that most of the costs of dual language program are related to start-up, such as training and hiring bilingual educators. The challenge for many schools is hiring educators from a limited pool of certified teachers who are highly proficient in both English and Spanish.

The next panel focused on supports for teachers in general. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testified that the evidence supports the idea that teachers should be paid significantly more, which would aid retention at high-poverty schools. Morath suggested it is also possible to develop an evaluation system that can identify high quality teachers, and advised the commission that a policy framework to provide better pay for high-quality teachers will require long-term commitment by the state, not a one-time grant or budget rider.

Morath further said that pay, not working conditions, is the top hurdle when it comes to recruiting people into the education profession. When it comes to retention, teachers say working conditions are more important than pay. Pay for education jobs has decreased over time, and the average classroom teacher has gotten younger as veterans leave the profession.

The commissioner discussed legislation filed during the special session of the 85th Texas Legislature that would have created a system of tiered certification distinctions tied to significant increases in pay. For example, a “master teacher” who has received a national certification and fulfilled additional requirements and serves at a rural or high-poverty campus could earn up to $20,000 more.

State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, said he declined to support the bill because of the cost it would have imposed on a long-term basis. Morath emphasized that higher pay is a long-term strategy and would not improve current performance, rather it would recruit and retain better quality educators in the future. In endorsing the idea, Morath indicated it will only work if the funding is baked into the funding formulas for school districts. The commissioner also suggested that one of the bill’s flaws was calibrating the process of identifying high-performing teachers, explaining that each school principal could have a different opinion when it comes to what defines a great teacher.

Responding to a question about high-stakes testing from State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), Morath said testing would have to be at least one component of a program that evaluates teacher quality. The commissioner suggested there should also be an observational component and perhaps a student survey, which is included in the Dallas ISD program upon which the bill was based.

Commission member Todd Williams also noted that there is no incentive for teachers to work in high-poverty or rural schools. In addition, teachers who are at the top of the pay scale cannot increase their pay without leaving the classroom and becoming an administrator, which means their teaching talent would be removed from the system. Finally, Williams noted that there is no incentive for teacher candidates to choose a high-quality preparation program over a cheaper, fly-by-night program. Williams suggested creating incentives in these areas could increase teacher quality and retention.

Concluding his testimony, Morath said that investing in better quality teachers would lead to better-prepared students graduating and pursuing more lucrative jobs. That, combined with teachers themselves earning more, would materially increase the state’s GDP. Morath reasoned this would have a positive and measurable impact on the Texas economy.

Following up on Morath’s testimony, Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers noted that rising health care costs have also driven teachers out of the profession. Chambers said children need to come to kindergarten ready to go to school, which pre-K helps accomplish, and must be reading on grade level by the third grade. Quality teachers should be in all classrooms, which is helped by differentiated teacher pay, such as paying teachers more to teach in more challenging classrooms.

San Antonio ISD fourth grade teacher Sarah Perez, who is also a Teach Plus Policy Fellow, rounded out the panel on educator supports. Perez testified that students need more social and emotional supports, such as counseling services. According to Perez, a teacher survey by Teach Plus found that teachers identify large class sizes and low teacher pay as having a negative impact on student learning. So do inadequate facilities and limited access to technology or funding for classroom expenses. This led to a lively discussion regarding how much the state could reimburse teachers for classroom expenses and how renewing this program could be done using technology, such as a debit card.

The rest of the day’s panels focused on “inefficiencies” in public education. Michael Szabo, a high school math teacher from Galena Park ISD, gave moving testimony about the struggles his students face. Some deal with teen pregnancy, homelessness, deportation, absent parents and other issues that distract from their ability to concentrate on schoolwork. At the same time, they and the school are being judged based on their performance on standardized tests. Instead, Szabo suggested tying performance evaluation to the percentage of graduates who enter the workforce, as well as those who are incarcerated or end up on welfare.

Other witnesses testified regarding reviewing special program allotments and how those funds can be spent. That included raising the compensatory allotment and easing back spending requirements. Responding to a question about charter schools, one witness noted that while charter school teachers are eligible to participate in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas, charters are not required to pay into the system. Another district suggested requiring charter schools to provide more notice and information to the district before setting up shop within a district’s borders and a “universal wait list” for charters. Some charters have touted dubious statistics regarding the number of students who are on wait lists. At the conclusion of the meeting, Brister invited a representative from a charter school to advocate for charters in general.

Districts requested more flexibility with regard to instruction time, as well as accessing the virtual school network. Districts also identified unfunded mandates and the unique challenges facing small, rural districts as drivers of inefficiency. There was some discussion as well from members of the commission who suggested districts faced with burdensome regulations consider becoming districts of innovation (DOI). It’s important to note that despite the perceived benefits of becoming a DOI, most districts have used DOI to hire uncertified teachers and expand class sizes beyond the statutory maximum. These are cost-cutting measures that ultimately hurt students.

The commission working group on expenditures is scheduled to meet Wednesday morning. The next meeting of the full commission is July 10.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 25, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


You did it! Tuesday, May 22nd turned out to be a great night for pro-public education candidates in our state, and it’s all because of the concerned educators and members of the public that turned out in the primary runoffs. The power of Texas educators was on full display as 80% of runoff candidates backed by ATPE-PAC or ATPE Direct triumphed over their opponents. A more thorough breakdown of all of the races can be found in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. While these victories may be sweet, remember that the fight isn’t over just yet. The general election in November is right around the corner, and educators must stay engaged!


Despite the concerted efforts of voucher supporters in Congress, ATPE and its federal lobby team in Washington D.C. were able to quell the passage of a voucher aimed at military-connected families. Along with many other opponents of the legislation, including the Military Coalition, we were able to successfully stop the most recent attempt to advance harmful voucher legislation. This most recent attempt would have amended a voucher onto the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA). More information on the failed amendment and ATPE’s efforts to stop it can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


 

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before House Public Education Committee May 24, 2018.

The Texas House Public Education (HPE) Committee met on Thursday to discuss its assigned interim charges on special education and standardized testing.TEA Commissioner Mike Morath offered testimony on the STAAR test, the effectiveness of the writing portion of the test, and how that portion is graded.Morath also spoke on the agency’s response to the tragic shooting in Santa Fe, which include providing attendance waivers and seeking federal funds for emergency response. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter provided testimony on the specificity of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and other topics. The committee also heard from a panel of superintendents, TEA Deputy Commissioner Penny Schwinn, and special education advocates. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provides a thorough recap of the meeting.

 


 

House committee looks at testing, special ed issues

The House Committee on Public Education met Thursday morning at the Texas Capitol to discuss interim charges related to testing and special education. The interim charges are assigned by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) and are generally composed of a detailed list of topics for each standing committee to research and discuss before the next legislative session. The following charges were on Thursday’s agenda:

  • Examine research-based options for evaluating student achievement beyond standardized test scores, including adaptive and portfolio assessments. Examine the scope of the current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)in grades with the state assessment, including the format, assessment calendar, and the limits of instructional days, if any. Determine if it is appropriate to limit TEKS to readiness standards that can be taught in less than the school year. Review current Student Success Initiative testing and make recommendations on its continuation or repeal. Review the ability of the state to waive standardized testing for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
  • Examine programs in public schools that have proven results meeting the needs of and improving student achievement for students with disabilities, with an emphasis on programs specializing in autism, dysgraphia, and dyslexia. Recommend ways to support and scale innovative programs for these students, including providing supplemental services, or incentivizing public-private partnerships or inter district and charter school collaborations. Monitor the implementation and funding for the pilot programs authorized in H.B. 21 (85R) and review the Texas Education Agency’s compliance with S.B. 160 (85R), which prohibits special education student caps.

After updating the committee on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) response to the Santa Fe school shooting and recent STAAR test glitches, Commissioner Mike Morath began his testimony by summarizing the overall design of the STAAR test and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) upon which tests are based. Morath pointed to one idea, splitting the STAAR test into sections to allow more flexible scheduling, that he suggested may require legislative guidance before ordering further agency research.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 24, 2018.

Members of the committee raised questions about the writing test, in particular with regard to grading methods. Morath indicated that a writing program created as a result of legislation by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) has yielded useful information, and noted that additional appropriation to continue the program would be a positive step.

Rep. VanDeaver asked Morath how much money could be saved by eliminating standardized tests that are required by the state, but not by federal law. House Bill (HB) 515 filed by VanDeaver during the 2017 legislative session would have eliminated tests not mandated under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and was estimated to result in a savings of $7 million. The bill was ultimately unsuccessful.

Other invited testimony included a panel of superintendents who testified to the overreliance on standardized tests for everything from student advancement to school accountability. Granger ISD Superintendent Randy Willis asked the committee to consider eliminating a single summative assessment at the end of the year in favor of multiple formative assessments and reducing the number of assessed standards. Doug Williams, Superintendent of Sunnyvale ISD, voiced support for dividing the STAAR into sections, ongoing diagnostic assessments, and making substantial changes to the writing portion of the exam. Part of the panel discussion touched on allowing teachers to directly grade writing exams, in other to provide better feedback and analysis.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the committee on the specificity of the TEKS, teaching versus testing, and corollary applications to the teacher pipeline. Other public testimony focused on portfolio assessments, such as rubrics developed by the New York Performance Standards Consortium.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before House Public Education Committee May 24, 2018.

After a brief break, the committee turned its focus to special education. TEA Deputy Commissioner Penny Schwinn walked members through the corrective action plan prepared by the agency to address the de facto cap on special education enrollment that resulted in a federal rebuke. Schwinn emphasized that current and future guidance indicates students with dyslexia should not be arbitrarily confined to Section 504 programs, but may qualify for special education services depending on the individual.

A number of advocacy organizations were invited to testify regarding the agency’s actions. Among the concerns raised by special education advocates was the timeline for implementation. Chris Masey with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities presented the dichotomy between progress at the policy level and frustration felt by parents looking for meaningful results. Masey also noted there hasn’t exactly been a surge in special education enrollment after the cap was lifted. Heather Sheffield with Decoding Dyslexia suggested policymakers explore a way to enforce the Dyslexia Handbook developed by TEA.

Additionally, advocates asked for per-pupil funding for dyslexia, as well as having adequate instructional time and funding for both training and staffing. One advocate testified that training alone for a special education teacher can top $5,000. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter thanked the committee for the work done last session to address the cap, as well as funding weights for special education. Exter drew the committee’s attention to districts’ ability to provide external services already. While therapeutic and educational services are both available, the primary focus of special education should be on educational services, and any therapeutic services covered by district or state funds should be in furtherance of the educational objectives.

Commissioner update on Santa Fe shooting, STAAR glitches

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) opened Thursday’s interim meeting of the House Committee on Public Education by acknowledging the tragic school shooting in the town of Santa Fe, south of Houston. The chairman invited Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath to update the committee on the agency’s response to date.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath addressing House Public Education Committee May 24, 2018.

Morath indicated that the agenda is providing attendance waivers and working to secure federal school violence funds for Santa Fe ISD. The commissioner is participating in a series of roundtable discussions on school shootings hosted this week by Gov. Greg Abbott, and testified that he is evaluating ideas raised in these discussions to determine which are actionable. While some ideas could be implemented by the agency, others would require legislative action.

“The challenges are legion,” said Morath, noting that Texas is home to some 8,600 school campuses.

Elaborating on the school violence funds available from the U.S. Department of Education through Project SERV (School Emergency Response to Violence) grants, Morath said Broward County Florida, the site of the Parkland school shooting, received roughly a million dollars. Any additional federal funding would likely require a congressional appropriation.

Asked by Chair Huberty to explain the delay in information reaching Santa Fe High School parents on the day of the shooting, Morath explained medical reporting on casualties and the process of investigating and securing the premises both took time. Morath pointed out the response included 12 law enforcement agencies, and suggested more interdisciplinary drills could be helpful.

Wrapping up the discussion, Huberty indicated that he has been involved in talks with other state leaders to develop a joint effort to address school shootings next session.

Huberty also asked the commissioner to update the committee on the most recent glitch during STAAR test administration. Morath said the latest involved 29,000 mostly special education students who were taking the test online. A subcontractor for ETS, the test administrator, was performing a “bug fix” that resulted in servers dramatically slowing down. The agency is issuing a letter to administrators regarding the problem and is waiving School Success Initiative (SSI) requirements for Fifth grade students affected by the glitch. These 29,000 students will be factored out of local and district accountability unless including them would raise campus and district scores.

Huberty point out this is the second year in the past three to see problems under the ETS contract. Morath testified the agency has levied a $100,000 fine against ETS and will rebid the contract beginning in June.

SFC outcomes group looks at testing, kinder readiness

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on outcomes met Wednesday afternoon at the Texas Capitol to discuss early childhood education, post-secondary readiness, and post-secondary completion and assessments.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) deputy commissioner Penny Schwinn was the first to testify before the working group, which is led by Todd Williams and includes Pflugerville ISD Superintendent Doug Killian, state Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) and high school teacher Melissa Martin. Schwinn said that Texas spends $7 per student on testing. Sen. Taylor pursued a line of questioning that indicated support for going to more online testing, asking Schwinn to explain the security and cost benefits of online tests versus those using pen and paper.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on outcomes meeting May 2, 2018.

Schwinn testified that online tests are cheaper and suggested there could be some security benefits by reducing the potential for physical tests getting lost in the mail. Sen. Taylor suggested online tests would give districts more flexibility in determining test dates and allowing follow-up tests later in the school year. Rep. Bernal stated concern over connectivity, in particular with regard to districts that may not have reliable internet access. Schwinn noted that recently-passed legislation allows districts to spend instructional materials allotment (IMA) funds on technology.

According to Schwinn, only 59 percent of Texas children are “kindergarten-ready.” Just 45 percent meet grade level expectations in third grade reading. The overwhelming data show students with high quality early childhood education are significantly more likely to graduate from school. According to Schwinn, funding universal pre-K for four-year olds would cost the state $1.7 billion. Universal pre-K for three- and four-year olds would cost $3.4 billion.

Schwinn also noted that significant performance gaps remains between white and non-white students, as well as economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged students. Regarding special education, Schwinn said far fewer Texas students receive special education services for dyslexia than students nationwide. Dr. Killian pointed out that is likely a result of the erstwhile special education “cap” instituted by the agency.

Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers appealed to the group to provide the necessary funding to achieve the desired outcomes of policymakers and practitioners. Chambers indicated that educators must also be paid better salaries. Barring these, Chambers warned that efforts to institute better education policies will be doomed to fail.

With regard to early childhood education, Chambers attributed improvements in kindergarten readiness in Alief ISD to better professional development for pre-K teachers and putting better quality teachers in pre-K classrooms. Chambers suggested public-private partnerships could be a viable option without additional state funding for pre-K. Chambers also affirmed there is a meaningful difference in quality between alternatively certified teachers and those trained by traditional programs, despite an increase in the employment of less qualified alternatively certified teachers.

Sen. Taylor made clear that any increases in teacher pay should not be across the board, rather they should go to the highest performers. Martin, a teacher, noted the overwhelming pressure placed upon teachers, not to mention the steadily increasing costs of health care without a commensurate increase in pay. Chambers testified the state is in the middle of a “teacher crisis” in which not enough qualified teachers are available to meet the demands of schools.

On the subject of testing, Chambers questioned whether the STAAR is as useful and accurate as previous tests such as the TAAS and TAKS. While Texas schools saw steady improvement on the previous tests, Chambers pointed out that STAAR scores have stagnated. Killian joined this theme by raising concerns over the usefulness of STAAR data compared to previous tests.

The full commission will meet Thursday.

TEA announces A-F accountability rating framework

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) on Tuesday announced its framework for the new accountability system set to go into effect as modified by House Bill (HB) 22 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. The agency created this framework after consulting with stakeholders, including ATPE. While some of that feedback was incorporated, the system’s major elements – such as its reliance on standardized test scores – are determined by the statutory law created by legislators in 2017.

The system is comprised of three domains: Student Achievement, School Progress, and Closing the Gaps. The Domain I Student Achievement score is 100 percent reliant on STAAR test results at the elementary and middle school levels. High schools use a combination of STAAR scores; college, career, and military readiness (CCMR) indicators; and graduation rates. These are weighted at 40 percent, 40 percent, and 20 percent, respectively.

Domain II Student Progress also relies entirely on STAAR scores and is divided into two components: Academic Growth and Relative Performance. Academic Growth compares current STAAR scores over the previous year, and Relative Performance compares STAAR scores between comparable districts. Districts and schools may use the higher of the two components.

Domain III Closing the Gaps uses disaggregated STAAR test data to compare performance among racial and ethnic groups. Each category is assigned an improvement target, and targets in the current framework reflect the input of stakeholders who warned the original targets were unattainable. The agency has included the state plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) entirely within this domain, and is applying to the U.S. Department of Education to amend its plan in order to incorporate changes reflected in this framework.

Each domain will receive a raw score and a corresponding letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F. An overall summative score will be determined by taking the better of Domains I and II, weighting the score at 70 percent, and adding it to the Domain III score weighted at 30 percent. This will result in a corresponding A-F letter grade.

The framework is scheduled to be published in the Texas Register and opened to public comment in May 2018, followed by the 2018 Accountability Manual, including methodology, in June. Districts will receive their first ratings under the A-F system August 15, while individual campuses continue to receive ratings based on the “met standard/improvement required” system. Campuses will begin receiving A-F ratings in 2019. You can read the entire framework here, and see incorporated feedback here.

 

Commissioner update on STAAR glitches, SpEd plan, NAEP

The State Board of Education (SBOE) kicked off its April meeting Wednesday with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

Morath informed the board that the agency will seek an amendment to the state’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in order to implement changes to the accountability system under House Bill (HB) 22 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. The agency released its accountability framework on Tuesday.

Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting April 11, 2018.

With testing week underway, Morath updated the board on a recent glitch with the STAAR exam. According to the commission, the failure of a single server caused a roughly 20-minute disruption in the exam. No data were lost, although 40,000 students were affected and forced to log out, then log back in, while taking the exam online. Some 1,000 school systems had one or more students affected, and it appears the glitch was largely confined to those taking the English I end of course (EOC) exam, although exceptions have been reported. Roughly 460,000 tests have been taken online so far.

SBOE Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) suggested the board avoid scheduling meetings during testing week in the future, as it makes it nearly impossible for educators to get time off to attend board meetings or to testify before the board. TEA staff indicated they are aware of the scheduling conflict and are working toward avoiding such a situation in the future.

The commissioner next proceeded to run down the state’s recent results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Texas saw a slight decline in 4th grade math proficiency this year and has experienced a downward trend in 8th grade math since 2011. The state has been a middling performer in 4th grade reading and saw a slight recent dip. Scores on 8th grade reading have been similarly flat, with a slight recent decline. Morath called the NAEP scores “somewhat disappointing nationally.”

“It does appear that accountability matters a great deal, and resources appear to be a factor,” Morath added.

Member Hardy pointed out that Texas has different demographic challenges than other states; in particular, it is home to a high percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged. Hardy suggested this makes for apples-to-oranges comparisons to other states when it comes to national test scores. Morath conceded Hardy’s point, but noted that “life doesn’t grade on the curve.” The commissioner warned the real world deals in absolutes, and suggested it’s important to celebrate success where appropriate while continuing to pursue improvement.

Finally, Morath updated the board on the agency’s corrective action for special education. A January letter from the U.S. Department of Education found Texas was deficient in three areas of special education: Child find, providing a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), and compliance monitoring.

According to the commissioner, the core corrective action response will be provided to the federal government for compliance purposes, while a strategic plan for the state will focus on broader reforms. The commissioner identified five key components of the strategic plan: State monitoring, identification, evaluation, and placement; training, support, and development; student, family, and community engagement; and support networks and structures. The final corrective action response is due to the federal government April 23.

Responding to funding questions from Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), Morath indicated the agency has already begun making staffing changes with federal funds available to the agency under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The agency has already hired 34 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in order to begin implementing the necessary changes. The nature of the plan calls for spending shifts in allocation. The state is allocated roughly $100 million in IDEA funds each year, all of which Morath said are being “re-tooled” concomitant with the corrective action plan.

Asked by Ellis how formula funding under the Foundation School Program (FSP) would be affected by the plan, Morath said the special education formulas are “quite sophisticated,” making it hard to give a specific number. As a ballpark estimate, Morath estimated the plan would add another $5,000 for each new special education student. The agency estimates another 200,000 students could enter the system, which would translate to about $1 billion in additional FSP funding. Morath noted the figures are only rough estimates, and actual funding would depend upon which services are provided to each child under his or her individualized education program (IEP).

Member Sue Melton-Malone (R-Waco) asked about training provided to educators under the plan. The commissioner said the agency is preparing to launch a statewide professional development network involving summer programs and ongoing training. This training will be primarily targeted at mainstream setting educators.

On a separate note, Member Lawrence Allen, Jr. (D-Houston) voiced concern to Commissioner Morath over the board’s lack of oversight of contracts between school districts and charter schools as a result of Senate Bill (SB) 1882 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. This bill provides financial incentives and a pause in accountability ratings for districts to contract with a charter holder, nonprofit or higher education institution to operate a campus under a “partnership” model in which the district surrenders control entirely to the operator. As ATPE has warned, this has potentially troubling implications for school staff and students in the feeder pattern.

While the SBOE has the final authority to approve new charters, it has no formal input regarding these arrangements. Rather, each contract must be approved by the commissioner. Agreeing with Allen, Member Hardy warned that charters may be less faithful to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which are required curriculum approved by the board.

The board is scheduled to consider a variety of items Wednesday, including potential action regarding the creation of a Mexican American Studies class. Continue to check TeachTheVote.org for further updates from this week’s SBOE meeting.

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

As you’re preparing for a holiday break, here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE:


As ATPE and other associations are working to encourage the education community to get out the vote in the 2018 elections, our GOTV efforts are rankling some officeholders and the special interests that have supported them financially. Seemingly frightened by the prospect of high voter turnout among educators, at least one lawmaker is complaining about school districts fostering a culture of voting among their staffs and students. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported yesterday on our blog, Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is asking Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to issue a legal opinion to try to stifle the nonpartisan voter education efforts being spearheaded by the Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is a member.

ATPE and other groups involved in the movement were quick to defend the nonpartisan work of the coalition, which is comprised of several groups that do not endorse candidates at all. The League of Women Voters, for example, tweeted, “The League’s mission is Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy! We are proud to partner with Texas Educators Votes and support their mission to create a culture of voting in Texas.”

Some educators naturally questioned why a sitting state senator would want to dissuade educators from voting and teaching students about the importance of voting. “Why would a leader not want school boards to adopt a resolution that encourages students, faculty, and staff to #vote?” asked former ATPE State President Cory Colby (@EffectualEdu) on Twitter. Another educator (@drdrbrockman) tweeted, “Looks like @TeamBettencourt doesn’t want educators to turn out to vote. Nothing in the Texas Educators Vote resolution pushes particular candidates or electoral outcomes.” ATPE member Rita Long commented on our blog, “I will vote in every election and encourage every citizen to vote. It is my right and privilege to have a voice in our elections. Educators must use their votes to have a voice in what is happening in public education. Our students are our future. Education issues should be a top priority with every American.”

Responding to the growing criticism on social media, Sen. Bettencourt doubled down on his unfounded claim that the coalition was using public school resources to promote particular candidates or ballot measures. The senator has not yet identified any examples of particular candidates allegedly being promoted by way of the coalition’s GOTV efforts.

By law the Attorney General’s office has six months to respond to Bettencourt’s request for an opinion, but AG Paxton is likely to issue a ruling ahead of the 2018 primaries. Several education groups involved in the coalition efforts will be submitting briefs to the AG’s office in the coming weeks. Stay to tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Related content: As part of our ongoing effort to encourage educators to participate in the 2018 primary and general elections as informed voters, be sure to check out our candidate profiles right here on our nonpartisan Teach the Vote website. This election cycle, we’re featuring profiles of every candidate running for a Texas legislative seat, State Board of Education, governor, and lieutenant governor. Profiles includes incumbents’ voting records on education-related bills, responses to our candidate survey, contact information for the campaigns, and additional information compiled by ATPE’s lobby team. New information is being added daily as we learn more about the candidates. If candidates in your area have not yet answered our candidate survey, please encourage them to do so. Inquiries about Teach the Vote and our candidate survey may be sent to government@atpe.org.

 

 


The U.S. Congress conference committee established to hash out disagreements between the U.S. House and U.S. Senate Republican tax plans has come to an agreement on a final plan. The committee met Wednesday to review the plan in a public hearing. Much of the high-profile provisions of the final plan have been discussed in public and reported by the media. For example, the corporate tax rate would be reduced from 35 to 21 percent, the top tax rate for individuals would go from almost 40 to 37 percent, the Obamacare-era tax fine for those who don’t buy health insurance would be removed, and the state and local taxes (SALT) deduction would be kept but capped at $10,000. Still, many smaller details of the negotiated plan remain unknown. Those include two issues raised in an ATPE letter to members of the Texas delegation: (1) a deduction for educators who use personal money to buy classroom supplies, and (2) a potential new tax for public pension investments, such as those in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) trust fund.

The details of the bill are expected to be released later today. Follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter and watch for more updates as information becomes available. The tax bill must still receive a final vote of support in both chambers and receive the signature of the president before it becomes law, which Republican leadership hopes to have completed by Christmas.

 


Students in some school districts affected by Hurricane Harvey will see relief from certain standardized testing requirements. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Thursday that Commissioner Mike Morath would waive some STAAR requirements for certain students affected by the massive storm. The commissioner has remained reluctant to provide relief in the form of STAAR testing schedules or accountability requirements, but he changed his tune slightly after Gov. Greg Abbott joined the chorus of those in favor of loosening accountability and testing requirements for Harvey-affected students and schools. Morath sent a letter to impacted school districts on Thursday explaining that fifth and eighth grade students who fail to pass the required state standardized tests twice can advance to the next grade level if district educators agree they are ready. Learn more about Morath’s decision to waive some testing requirements in this article from the Texas Tribune.

 


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and State Board of Education (SBOE) will host a free conference on teacher preparation and retention in January. The one-day event will feature roundtable and panel discussions on how Texas can better prepare its future teachers, support those in the classroom, and retain teachers tempted to the leave the field. It will also feature keynote speeches from Doug Lemov, who authored Teach Like a Champion, and Peter Dewitt, the author of Collaborative Leadership: Six Influences that Matter Most.

The conference, titled Learning Roundtable: Recruiting, Preparing and Retaining Top Teachers, will be held at the Austin Convention Center from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm on Thursday, January 25, and will offer up to 5.5 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) to participating educators. To view the full-day agenda, learn more about the event, or register to attend, visit the Texas Education Agency’s conference web page.

Related content: SBEC met last week for its final meeting of the year to discuss a broad agenda that included rulemaking resulting from bills passed during the 85th legislative session. The board also rejected revisiting a controversial and unnecessary pathway for superintendent candidates to seek certification without prior experience in a classroom, school, or managerial role. Read a recap of the meeting from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann who attended the meeting and testified on behalf of ATPE.

 


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board met yesterday and today, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was in attendance. As reported in Exter’s blog post, the meeting included a discussion of the annual reports on the actuarial valuation of the TRS pension and healthcare funds.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 22, 2017

Here’s a look at the week’s education news stories from the ATPE lobby team:

 


The board of trustees for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) met this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the meetings and provided this report for our blog, summarizing the board’s discussions about data system upgrades and possible future actions pertaining to retire/rehire policies for educators and the assumed rate of return associated with the pension fund.

 


TEA_assessmentsThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been busy rolling out new STAAR testing resources for educators and parents. Its TexasAssessment.com website offers tools and data for parents, teachers, and administrators to help understand and analyze information related to the state’s standardized testing system. This week, TEA made available to educators the ability to view sample reports that parents can access for their children. The goal is to help teachers provide guidance to their students’ parents who may have questions about the STAAR reports. For more information on the new resources, check out this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


This weekend, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins is attending the Texas Tribune’s annual TribFest. Learn more about the education-related panel discussions that are taking place at the festival in this blog post from Mark. ATPE’s Governmental Relations staff members are also out on the road this weekend attending ATPE meetings in Regions 12 and 14, with many more scheduled in the next few weeks. Learn more about these events in today’s blog post from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz.