Tag Archives: Commissioner of Education

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 19, 2017

A recap of the week’s education-related news from ATPE Governmental Relations:

 


This week in the Texas capital we witnessed a tug-of-war between the state’s top legislative leaders as the end of the 85th legislative session looms.

Tomorrow, May 20, is the last day for Senate bills to make it out of House committees, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has been vocal in complaints about his conservative Senate priorities stalling in the more moderate House. At the same time, the Senate has held back on advancing an important sunset bill that would keep several state agencies in operation and has tacked controversial Senate-preferred amendments onto major House bills. A prime example is House Bill (HB) 21, the school finance bill that turned into a private school voucher measure when it came out of a Senate committee last week. That bill is slated for a Senate floor debate this weekend, and ATPE members are being urged to contact their lawmakers about the need to pass school finance reforms without vouchers.

Dollar banknotes heapThe impasse between the two chambers means that we’ve yet to see any details of a potential compromise on the state budget. That bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, remains pending in a conference committee.

Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told reporters that it was imperative for legislators to pass a property tax reform bill and a legislation regulating public bathrooms. Soon thereafter, Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Patrick Monday evening identifying a different pair of bills that must be passed this session in order to avoid the need for a special session: the budget, which lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass, and a sunset safety net bill that keeps several state agencies from being forced to shut down. As reported by The Texas Tribune, Straus also used the opportunity in his letter to urge the Senate to act on other House priorities, including some education concerns:

“We certainly understand that some bills that are passed in one chamber will not have the support to move forward in the other,” Straus wrote. “Still, as the House continues to pass priority Senate bills, I respectfully ask that the Senate also consider acting soon on issues that are priorities of the House, including public education, school accountability and testing reform, child protection, mental health, cybersecurity and preserving health insurance for retired teachers.”

In response to the Straus letter, Patrick called a press conference on Wednesday and reiterated that the bathroom bill and property tax bill, SB 2, were top priorities that must be addressed. Patrick indicated that the Senate would take no vote on the sunset bill until the House acted on those two priorities. Threatening a special session, which only the governor has power to call, Patrick added that he would ask for many more of the Senate’s conservative priorities, such as school vouchers, to be added to any such special session call. The lieutenant governor declined to answer any reporters’ questions.

Abbott stated after the press conference that there was no reason lawmakers couldn’t address his priorities during the regular session without the need for calling a special session. Straus issued a statement expressing “optimism” that the two chambers would “produce a reasonable and equitable compromise on the budget,” and noted that the property tax bill, SB 2, was on the House calendar and scheduled for debate. (Since then, SB 2 has experienced a number of delays and challenges, including a point of order that could defeat the bill on a technical rules violation.) While holding out hope for avoiding a special session, Straus also criticized the Senate in his written statement for endangering a school finance fix that would also provide property tax relief for homeowners:

“The House made a sincere effort to start fixing our school finance system, but the Senate is trying to derail that effort at the 11th hour,” Straus wrote in reference to HB 21. “The Senate is demanding that we provide far fewer resources for schools than the House approved and that we begin to subsidize private education – a concept that the members of the House overwhelmingly rejected in early April.”

The Senate has until Wednesday to hear most remaining House bills on second reading. It remains to be seen whether enough common ground will be found to avoid a special session. As we head into the last full week of the regular session, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow us on Twitter for the latest developments.

 


Drugs and MoneyA number of high-profile education bills are on the Senate’s calendar for floor debate. Today’s calendar includes HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the school finance bill referenced above to which the Senate has attached an educational savings account voucher provision and reduced funding for school districts. Also on tap for a likely vote today is Rep. Trent Ashby’s (R-Lufkin) bill dealing with TRS-Care, HB 3976. For more on the measure to change retired educators’ healthcare options, check out this comprehensive blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. Also, check out today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann with the latest on bills acted upon in the Senate this week.

 


Among the many measures still pending near the end of the legislative session are bills dealing with testing and accountability. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) has authored HB 22, a bill crafted with educator input aimed at improving the state’s A-F accountability rating system for schools. As approved by the House, the bill would condense the rated domains from five to three and eliminate the overall summative grade, deemed one of the most controversial aspects of the A-F system. This week, the Senate Education Committee heard HB 22, and Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) opted to replace the bill’s language with his plan taken from another bill, SB 2051. As substituted, the bill does not provide nearly as much relief, prompting ATPE and other educator groups to voice concerns about it during the Thursday hearing. The committee also heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath about the bill. For more on that hearing, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, as well as related coverage from The Texas Tribune.

Another high-profile bill being closely watched by the education community is Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463. That bill would extend the option for individual graduation committees (IGCs) to help college- and career-ready students unable to pass STAAR tests through 2019. Seliger, who authored the original law creating IGCs in 2015, hoped to make the statute permanent, but some groups that oppose the provision have insisted on a shorter time period. The House Public Education Committee advanced the bill this week, as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, but time is running short for the bill to be placed on a calendar for floor debate.

Both the House and Senate education committees will be holding formal meetings today during breaks from the floor action to vote on additional bills.

 


ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

During a House Public Education Committee hearing on Thursday, Round Rock ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe was among several educators to testify against a bill that would water down educator preparation standards. SB 1278 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would prevent educator preparation programs from being held accountable for their candidates’ performance on certain educator certification exams in subjects deemed shortage areas, and the bill also allows individuals with five days’ experience working as a substitute teacher or teacher’s aide to count that work as required field experience rather than student teaching. The bill is being pushed by some of the state’s largest for-profit alternative certification providers.

Stoebe, a former Texas teacher of the year, testified about the importance of having properly trained teachers in classrooms that serve some of our most vulnerable populations. She urged the legislature not to roll back improvements made in rules by the State Board for Educator Certification this year to impose higher standards for educator preparation programs. ATPE also joined with a number of other educator groups in submitting a written statement in joint opposition to SB 1278.

Click here to watch video of the hearing (and view Stoebe’s testimony beginning at 1:26:11 on the archived video file). Also, view more details on the hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s blog post here.

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingUPDATE: Just this afternoon, the House Public Education Committee held a formal meeting to take votes on some of the bills heard earlier this week. The committee voted against sending SB 1278 to the full House. Those voting against the bill were the committee’s vice-chairman, Rep. Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), plus Reps. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), Ken King (R-Canadian), Linda Koop (R-Dallas), and Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas). Chairman Huberty voted for SB 1278, along with Reps. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). The committee also voted down a trio of charter school bills: SB 1061, SB 1838, and SB 1883, plus SB 1886 that would have created an Inspector General’s office within the Texas Education Agency. Bills advanced by the committee today were Senate Bills 801, 825, 1177, 1553 (committee substitute), 1659, 2084, and 2141.

 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 5, 2017

Here are education news stories you might have missed this week from ATPE Governmental Relations:

 


ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavelA settlement agreement was executed Wednesday between ATPE and three other teacher groups that sued the state over the commissioner’s T-TESS rules for teacher evaluation. Under terms of the settlement, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will revise the T-TESS rules to eliminate requirements that districts use four specific methods, including controversial Value-Added Measures, to evaluate student growth for purposes of teacher appraisals.

Read more about the settlement here.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-99674144We’ve reached the 117th day of the 85th legislative session with only three full weeks left for lawmakers to pass a state budget. Monday, May 8, is the first of several important session deadlines approaching quickly: the last day for House committees to report out House bills. House bills that don’t make it out of a House committee by then will be considered procedurally dead, although many “dead” bills can still resurface in the form of companion bills or amendments to other bills. Committees, especially on the House side, had a busy week of hearings ahead of the deadlines, and several late nights of floor debate. The House is scheduled to hold a Saturday session tomorrow, too.

Several significant education bills made it through either the House or Senate chamber this week, as reported by ATPE’s lobbyists. In the Senate, a popular bill passed to extend the law allowing the continuation of individual graduation committees for certain high school students unable to pass all required STAAR tests. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463 now heads to the House for consideration. The Senate also approved an amended version of SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), an anti-bullying measure known as David’s Law. Other bills passing the Senate this week dealt with educator certification, charter schools, and a study on school finance. For more about the Senate’s work this week, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

In the lower chamber, House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) saw two more of his most significant bills pass the full House this week. HB 22 improves the state’s “A through F” accountability system for schools by condensing the number of domains from five to three and eliminating the overall summative grade that would have been assigned to schools. An ATPE-supported floor amendment by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) also calls for the Texas Education Agency to supply narrative descriptions of the ratings assigned in an effort to help parents and the public better understand their significance. Another ATPE-supported floor amendment by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) that would have further reduced the emphasis on student test scores in the accountability system was rejected. Huberty’s HB 23 also got a nod of approval from the House; the bill creates a grant program to help public schools, including charter schools, offer specialty services for students with disabilities. An attempted floor amendment by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) that would have funded private school vouchers was withdrawn during the debate. The House also approved Rep. VanDeaver’s HB 515, an ATPE-supported bill that reduces mandatory testing. Also, HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), offering changes to try to shore up the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators, passed the House on a 140-0 vote yesterday.

Numerous bills made it past the House Public Education Committee this week as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. For complete details, check out his latest blog posts here, here, and here.

 


 

 

This week in the Texas Senate

The Senate wrapped up its work week today after two Senate Education Committee meetings with modest agendas and a number of education bills getting the green light from the full Senate chamber.

Senate Education Committee

The Senate Education Committee heard a total of twelve bills this week during its regularly scheduled meetings on Tuesday and Thursday. ATPE supported three bills: SB 1699, which establishes a framework of available resources for districts and campuses to use when addressing students’ non-academic barriers to learning; SB 927, which would set up a process for reevaluating any students who may have been denied necessary special education services because of the 8.5% cap uncovered last year; and SB 2052, which adjusts the school start date to not before the third (it’s currently set at the fourth) Monday in August and prohibits Districts of Innovation (DOI) districts from opting out of the provision.

ATPE opposed a bill, SB 1963, that would roll back a rule recently adopted by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that requires all educator preparation programs to conduct one in-person, face-to-face observation of all principal, counselor, diagnostician, and other non-classroom teacher candidates.

The committee also passed its first House bill, sending that bill and 13 other Senate bills to the full Senate.

Texas Senate

On the floor of the full Senate this week, several education bills were approved and sent to the House for consideration by the body. ATPE is advocating for a number of the bills:

  • SB 463 by Sen. Seliger (R-Amarillo) is a top priority of ATPE and many other public school advocates. The bill would extend individual graduation committees available to those students who otherwise demonstrate mastery, but fail to pass up to two STAAR exams required for graduation. Read more about the bill here. Senators Konni Burton, Donna Campbell, and Jane Nelson were the only senators to oppose final passage.
  • SB 196 by Sen. Garcia (D-Houston) would require schools to notify parents if the school does not have a full-time nurse, school counselor, or librarian. The measure ultimately passed 19-12.
  • SB 2144 by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) establishes a commission to study school finance in Texas. The bill passed the chamber unanimously. During debate, Chairman Taylor indicated his larger school finance bill, SB 2145, would be debated on the Senate floor next week.
  • SB 1854 by Sen. Uresti (D-San Antonio) would reduce unnecessary paperwork currently required of classroom teachers in schools. Senators Robert Nichols and Van Taylor were the only senators to oppose the bill.
  • SB 179 by Sen. Menendez (D-San Antonio), which aims to prevent and criminalizes school aged bullying and cyberbullying, passed unanimously out of the Senate after substantial changes.

The chamber advanced a few additional bills this week. SB 1839 by Sen. Hughes (R-Mineola), creates an EC-3 certification, gives the Commissioner authority to determine certain out-of-state certification reciprocity standards, and addresses educator preparation data collection. ATPE testifed neutrally on this piece of legislation in committee, sharing that the SBEC is already in the process of thoughtfully considering the best approach to adequately training early childhood teachers. We have also shared that all other certification authority is granted to SBEC, and it makes little sense to parse out reciprocity responsibility to the commissioner instead of the board.

SB 1882 puts into statute a process for schools to partner with a charter campus. Such partnerships already exist in Texas, but the bill would encourage them by granting financial and accountability incentives. ATPE has maintained that if we want to incentivize districts to implement turnaround models or try new approaches, we shouldn’t pick winners and losers by incentivizing one model or approach over others when many other valuable methods exist. The Senate floor debate included the adoption of an amendment advocated for by ATPE that ensures partner charters have been rated acceptable for the three preceding years. The Senate also contemplated an amendment that would have clarified that the district would remain the educators’ employer. However, that amendment lacked support and was pulled from consideration. The bill passed unanimously.

Finally, SB 1883 involves approval and review processes for charter schools. ATPE opposed the bill as originally filed because it removed the State Board of Education from the charter review process and revoked the board’s veto power over charter approvals. The review process issue was altered before the bill passed, but many of ATPE’s additional concerns remain.

The Senate begins its work again next week on Monday afternoon. Stay tuned as we head into the final three weeks of session.

ATPE settles lawsuit over state’s teacher evaluation system

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingATPE and other parties to a lawsuit over the state’s new recommended teacher appraisal system known as T-TESS have reached a settlement agreement.

ATPE and three other teacher associations sued the state in April 2016 alleging that new commissioner’s rules to implement T-TESS violated state laws and were against public policy. Through the Office of the Attorney General, which represented the Texas Education Agency in the lawsuit, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has agreed to revise the rules in exchange for the four teacher groups’ suspending their legal challenges.

The terms of the settlement agreement call for removal of language in the commissioner’s rules that require districts to employ four specific student growth measures in evaluating teachers under the T-TESS model. One of those four criteria was “value-added data based on student state assessment results,” often called Value-Added Measurement or Value-Added Modeling (VAM). ATPE has long criticized the use of VAM for high-stakes purposes based on concerns about the validity and fairness of the controversial model.

‘VAM attempts to use complex statistical calculations on students’ standardized test scores in previous years to predict how well a student should perform on future tests; the resulting test performance of an individual student – not accounting for myriad outside factors – is supposed to magically show whether that student’s most recent teacher was effective or not,” said ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday at the time the lawsuits challenging the rules were filed.

ATPE Member Legal Services Director Donna Derryberry described the compromise struck this week as one that “will give districts more local control over their appraisal process” without being required to use VAM. “This is a great victory for all Texas teachers,” added Derryberry, “and ATPE is proud to have been instrumental in this settlement.”

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 28, 2017

Here’s this week’s wrap-up of education news from the ATPE lobbyists:

 


ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

The House Committee on Public Education worked overnight and into the early hours this Friday morning hearing testimony on bills, including some aimed at funding private school voucher programs. Imminent end-of-session deadlines combined with a lengthy, high-profile floor debate this week on sanctuary cities resulted in late night hearings on many education bills. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provided a comprehensive blog update on the Thursday proceedings at which the committee voted on 15 bills previously heard and took testimony on 26 additional bills.

Bills heard by the committee overnight included a version of the “Tim Tebow” bill to allow home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities, plus a pair of bills by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) aimed at using public education dollars to help students qualifying for special education receive private education or therapies. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided testimony on both bills, suggesting alternative ways to help ensure that students with special needs have access to appropriate services while maintaining accountability and the integrity of the public school system.

Wiggins_HPE_4-25-17

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifying before the House Public Education Committee, April 25, 2017.

With end-of-session deadlines looming, the House Public Education Committee packed in hearings of numerous bills this week. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on the committee’s Tuesday meetings, which included discussions of Districts of Innovation and scheduling the school year, always a controversial subject. The committee also heard HB 1333 by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), aimed partially at reducing standardized testing in Texas. For more on the committee’s conversation about testing, read this piece by The Texas Tribune republished here on our blog, which also refers to testimony given by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. ATPE’s Wiggins also testified in support of funding for high-quality pre-K programs during Tuesday’s hearing.

The House Public Education Committee also met briefly on Monday to take votes on additional bills heard earlier this session. As reported by ATPE’s Mark Wiggins, the committee approved bills to eliminate state tests for writing and social studies, allow children of military families to enroll full-time in the state’s virtual school network, and provide mentoring and professional development for new teachers. In a rare move, committee members also voted against a bill dealing with charter school liability and zoning laws.

The committee will meet again Tuesday, May 2, with another lengthy agenda of bills hoping to survive the May 8 deadline for House committees to favorably report out any House bills that may still be eligible for floor debate.

 


Kuhlmann_SenEd_04-27-17

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testifying before the Senate Education Committee, April 27, 2017.

Over in the Texas Senate, proposals to change the state’s beleaguered “A through F” accountability system were in the spotlight. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported yesterday on our blog, the Senate Education Committee heard bills this week by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), both aimed at redesigning the state accountability system to incorporate different indicators and calculations. Testifying on ATPE’s behalf, Kuhlmann urged the committee to consider integrating measures associated with teacher quality into the system but cautioned against the over-reliance on student test score data. Taylor’s SB 2051 and Perry’s SB 1173 were both left pending.

Also testifying before the Senate Education Committee was Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, who used the opportunity to promote the Texas Education Agency’s new Confidential Student Report (CSR). The revamped reporting tool for parents was rolled out by TEA this week. Morath and will soon be linked to a new CSR website with additional resources related to STAAR testing.

Meanwhile, the Texas House is preparing to debate another major bill dealing with A-F on the House floor next week. HB 22 by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) was approved by that committee on April 4, and is now scheduled on the House calendar for floor debate on Wednesday, May 3. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates next week.

 


Yesterday, the Texas House approved a gradual phase-out of the business margins or franchise tax that generates revenue for public education. HB 28 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) passed the House on a 96-39 vote mostly along party lines. The bill would target the unpopular business tax for gradual elimination starting in 2019. For more on the bill, read this week’s coverage by The Texas Tribune. The measure will head next to the Senate for consideration, but even if it passes, it has no direct bearing on the budget currently being considered by the legislature the next two years.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1A conference committee appointed by both chambers to iron out differences in the House and Senate budget plans for SB 1 began its meetings earlier this week. ATPE encourages educators to contact members of the conference committee and urge them to send a budget compromise that adequately accommodates public education needs to the full legislature for swift approval. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central to send messages to their lawmakers.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-481431733Stakeholders in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) have a few more days left to cast a ballot for one of two open seats on the TRS Board of Trustees. Active members of TRS are invited to vote on a new at-large seat to be appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott based on the three highest vote-earners. Retired TRS members may vote on the at-large position, as well as a retiree position on the board. Voting closes on Friday, May 5, 2017. Learn more on the TRS website here.

 


 

Senate begins work on addressing A-F issues

ThinkstockPhotos-478554066_F gradeThe House is set to debate its bill aimed at fixing the public school accountability system next week. The bill addresses aspects of accountability that were altered last session by a law that applies a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F to schools and districts. The new rating system is scheduled to go into effect next year, but following the release of preliminary results to districts, appetites for changes to the system have grown. Today the Senate Education Committee took up its bills to address fixes to the new system.

SB 2051 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) takes a broad approach to addressing the accountability system, largely giving the commissioner authority to write the system through rulemaking. Chairman Taylor acknowledged the broad approach during his bill layout and asked stakeholders to offer their thoughts on addressing the system.

ATPE recommended a number of changes including more efforts within the bill to reduce the system’s overreliance on standardized tests, required stakeholder input as TEA writes rules developing or altering the system, and language to differentiate between a D and F rating, which are considered one in the same under current law. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann received agreement from committee members on ATPE’s recommendation to add a teacher quality measure to the system, a measure included under the House bill. Kate shared that inputs like average years of teaching experience, the percentage of teachers teaching within their field of certification, and teacher turnover rates can play a valuable role on ensuring qualified teachers are equitably spread across districts.

Commissioner Mike Morath shared information with committee members regarding the current A-F system and the state of public education in Texas. He emphasized TEA efforts to better inform parents and teachers on STAAR test results and other accountability outcomes. He shared that, for the first time, teachers and parents will be able to see how their students performed question by question on the STAAR exam and introduced a new accountability report card design. Senators questioned the overall value of STAAR exam results and highlighted the correlation between struggling schools and schools with high poverty rates. Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) again raised a concern shared by ATPE in opposition to the bill establishing the A-F rating system: the stigmatizing effect of labeling schools D and F is even more inappropriate when those D and F schools are full of the highest concentrations of low income and minority students.

Another issue that garnered significant discussion was the addition of a new layer to the accountability system: students considered to be continually enrolled (or in the district over a longer period of time) would be weighted heavier when calculating the campus and district accountability score than those that are considered mobile or transient. The idea behind the change is that campuses and districts should be held more heavily accountable for those students because they are a truer reflection of the success of a campus or district. Others, however, expressed concerned that weighting students differently in the accountability system could result in some students receiving less support, and, in this case, potentially those students that need the most support.

The bill would remove the inclusion of chronic absenteeism as an indicator for elementary and middle schools. ATPE agrees with many stakeholders that such an indicator is a flawed approach for a number of reasons, some of which can be read in our testimony on SB 1173, another A-F bill heard today that seeks to only address the absenteeism indicator. The bill, filed by Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), would omit the indicator but redistribute all of the 35% weight currently dedicated to the measure to portions of the accountability system that all utilize STAAR data to measure success. ATPE highlights our concerns with this unintended consequence of increasing reliance on standardized tests in our testimony linked above.

The committee heard a number of additional bills, which can be found on the full agenda. Among the bills advanced to the Senate floor today was SB 1294 by Senator Dawn Buckingham. ATPE strongly supports the legislation aimed at fostering inclusive consultation through certain district decision making and planning processes.

Charter schools, educator certification top Senate Education Committee hearing

The Senate Education Committee met yesterday, April 20, to hear a number of bills pertaining to charter schools, educator training and certification, and more. ATPE weighed in on several measures.

Review, approval, and expansion of open-enrollment charter schools

The committee heard a handful of bills pertaining to charter schools on a number of issues. First up was Sen. Donna Campbell’s (R-New Braunfels) SB 1883, pertaining to the approval process for charter applicants and the review of charter operators. ATPE testified against the bill. Our opposition was based on two primary themes: (1) removal of elected officials from the charter school process is irresponsible and (2) adding unnecessary new appeal and review opportunities for charters only creates administrative bloat.

Charter schools are not governed by an elected board of trustees, as is the case for traditional public school districts, so State Board of Education (SBOE) involvement in the charter applicant approval process is among the few opportunities for elected officials beholden to the Texas taxpayers to offer charter oversight. As was pointed out during the hearing, a recent out-of-state charter applicant that received approval three separate times from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner, was then vetoed by SBOE each time based on reasonable concerns about the charter’s inappropriate profiteering in other states. Clearly, SBOE’s involvement plays a valuable role on multiple levels.

SB 1883 also creates new appeal and review processes for charters. The current process for charter approval offers sufficient opportunity for charter applicants to showcase the worth of their application. Further, charter schools and school districts have sufficient time to correct or address data or calculation errors prior to it affecting the entities’ academic or financial accountability ratings. ATPE believes that the additional appeal and review processes provided under Sen. Campbell’s bill are unnecessary and would only result in government waste at TEA, an agency that is already taxed for resources.

ATPE supported a charter bill by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), SB 2130, which would establish a process for first determining regional need before approving a new charter applicant or charter expansion effort. The bill would require the TEA commissioner to first consider a number of factors aimed at determining whether a current traditional school is sufficiently serving the educational needs of students who live in the district. If it is determined that the existing schools are sufficient to meet those needs, a charter applicant would not be granted approval to establish or expand in the area, a measure that is intended to address over-saturation of charter schools in specific geographic areas.

Early childhood certification, reciprocity for out-of-state certificate holders

SB 1839 by Sen. Brian Hughes (R-Mineola) was originally filed as a measure aimed at improving educator preparation program practices in Texas. It also addressed reciprocity for educators trained and certified in other states or countries seeking to teach upon moving to Texas. Current law requires those our-of-state teachers to pass the relevant Texas certification exam(s) before teaching, unless their out-of-state certification is deemed “at least as rigorous” as a comparable Texas certification. Sen. Hughes’s bill, under the committee substitute presented yesterday, would omit the “at least as rigorous” exception, allowing any teacher certified in another state or country to teach in a Texas classroom upon arrival. ATPE expressed concerns, saying that some standard, be it passing the Texas certification exam or another form of showcasing qualifications, must be in place to ensure teachers entering Texas classrooms meet our state’s standards.

The committee substitute language also adds the creation of an Early Childhood through Grade 3 Certificate, which is among one of several avenues the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is currently reviewing in order to ensure early childhood teachers receive the specific instruction needed to best teach early childhood students. ATPE told the committee the thorough review process by SBEC is the best route to address this issue, because many factors play into this certification and SBEC is considering them all, including potential impacts on the supply of certified teachers at other grade levels.

Assessment flexibility, sex trafficking instruction

ATPE offered its support to two additional bills heard during yesterday’s hearing. Sen. Campbell’s SB 1005 would give certain students, those who must still pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) to graduate, the opportunity to meet graduation requirements by instead passing the SAT or ACT. ATPE also supported Sen. Judith Zaffirini’s (D-Laredo) SB 2039, which would create a sexual abuse and sex trafficking prevention program that districts could add to their curriculum if they choose.

The full Senate Education Committee agenda from yesterday can be found here. A list of the bills voted out of the committee during the hearing can be found here. Among the bills advanced by the committee was Sen. Van Taylor’s (R-Plano) SB 653, which he changed to only address pension revocation for certain individuals formerly employed as educators. Some of his original bill was rolled into the Senate’s priority bill pertaining to educator misconduct, SB 7, which is already moving through the process. ATPE supported both bills when they were previously heard in the Senate Education Committee.

State Board of Education takes up science, language arts TEKS

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

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

State Board of Education April 2017 meeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House committee advances A-F improvements

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to hear a number of bills, including those dealing with special education, and to advance a key piece of legislation relating to accountability.

House Public Education Committee meeting April 4, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting April 4, 2017.

During a break in testimony Tuesday afternoon, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) introduced a committee substitute to HB 22, which would modify the “A through F” accountability system. As filed, the bill would collapse the five domains down to three and eliminate the overall, or “summative,” rating for districts and schools.

Chairman Huberty explained the committee substitute would clarify that indicators must be based on disaggregated information and include indicators reflecting access to resources, size and socioeconomics. The substitute would also incorporate policies advocated by ATPE, including a requirement that stakeholders, including teachers, should be involved in the process. ATPE has also advocated for restricting the use of standardized test results and other value-added measures (VAM) for the purposes of evaluating educator performance. The substitute would cap VAM at 25 percent of the educator performance score.

The committee unanimously approved HB 22, along with the following bills:

  • HB 481, which would prohibit TEA from collecting over-allocated state funds after seven years if they resulted from statutory changes.
  • HB 852, which would remove the cap on the number of individuals who can enroll in the adult high school and industry certification charter school pilot program.
  • HB 972, which would make it more difficult for districts to assign students to an uncertified teacher.
  • HB 1560, which would remove an obsolete reference regarding open-enrollment charter schools from the statute outlining the powers of the State Board of Education (SBOE).
  • HB 2611, which would allow districts to list property with a realtor using a multiple-listing service for 30 days.
  • HB 2649, which would require the governing bodies of charter schools to hold open meetings in the county in which the school is located and subject to the same requirements as regular government bodies.
  • HB 3722, which would modify the funding formula for districts to which an academically unacceptable school district is annexed.
  • HB 1669, which would allow the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner to charge legal fees to parents who the commissioner deems have filed a “frivolous” lawsuit.

Also of note, the committee considered HB 713 by state Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston), which would end the de facto “cap” on special education enrollment unveiled by the Houston Chronicle. Specifically, it would prohibit any performance indicator based on the total number or percentage of students enrolled in special education. As the Chronicle reported, an arbitrary 8.5 percent target monitored by TEA resulted in schools inappropriately denying special education services to thousands of children. Although TEA indicated that it will no longer use this information as a performance indicator, Rep. Wu explained HB 713 would prevent the agency from resuming the practice in the future. ATPE supports this bill.

The hearing began Tuesday morning with HB 1886 by state Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land), which would specify that appropriate dyslexia screening or testing should be done upon enrollment in kindergarten and at the end of first grade. It would require the TEA designate a dyslexia specialist to provide districts with support and resources, and identify both in-person and online training opportunities. According to the fiscal note, the bill would likely require TEA hire an additional full-time equivalent at a cost of roughly $107,000 per year.

HB 2205 by state Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) would require school employees to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to local law enforcement, as well as the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Kuempel argued that too much time may pass between the time a report is filed and DFPS notifies law enforcement of a potentially dangerous situation. In some cases, DFPS has waited up to 72 hours before notifying police.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified neutrally on the bill. Highlighting the paramount importance of child safety both to educators and police, Wiggins pointed out that the current law orders DFPS to immediately inform local law enforcement. It’s hard to justify calling 72 hours “immediate,” as required by law. Before duplicating efforts, ATPE suggested that addressing the issue within DFPS may be the correct starting point for ensuring that current law is followed and no children are left in potentially dangerous situations.

HB 743 by state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) would allow a social worker to provide services to students and families in a school district, collaborating with school administrators in order to enhance students’ learning environments. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1720 by state Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) would require schools to provide parental notice if a child is found with lice. Furthermore, school officials would be required to notify the parents of every child in the same classroom as a student found with lice. The bill specifies that the child’s identity would be held confidential and not revealed to other parents.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified neutrally on HB 1720, noting that some teachers have expressed frustration that some school districts prohibit teachers from notifying other parents when a child is found with lice, resulting in recurring outbreaks. ATPE suggested the bill could be improved by granting individual teachers the right to notify other parents if they determine such action is appropriate.

HB 1556 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would require training for foster parents of a child with disabilities before making educational decisions on the child’s behalf. The bill would separate the legal definitions of foster parents and surrogate parents for the purposes of educational decision making. Social workers testified that oftentimes, the law is unclear as to who makes the educational decisions for foster children in certain situations. According to the fiscal note, local districts could find it necessary to invest roughly $230,000 to develop training and $25,000 in subsequent years to maintain and update the training.

HB 1076 by state Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) would revisit the timing of mandatory spinal screenings. While current law requires screenings in grades 6 and 9, HB 1076 would instead order the executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to designate the appropriate ages for screening based on the latest scientific research.

HB 1583 by state Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) would extend epinephrine auto-injector regulations, privileges, grant eligibility and immunity from liability to private schools. The bill would also add private school nurses to the list of positions eligible to serve on the epinephrine auto-injector advisory council.

HB 2395 by state Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) would order each district and charter to test their water for lead using a third-party testing service. If too much lead is found, the bill would require schools to provide safe water until lead levels are returned to acceptable parameters. According to the fiscal note, the Texas Association of School Business Officials (TASBO) estimated the cost of lead testing to be between $2,000 and $3,000 per building. TEA estimated the statewide cost at approximately $22 million per year, not including remediation.

HB 2130 by state Rep. Kevin Roberts (R-Houston) would order a study on the impact of the statewide assessment program on students in special education. The study would be required to address whether the administration of alternate assessments complies with ESSA and whether state-required assessments provide accurate and helpful information. Many disability advocates argued that current assessments aren’t necessarily appropriate for children with some disabilities. According to the fiscal note, the study would cost the state approximately $230,000. TEA staff testified the study could be paid for out of federal funds. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1342 by state Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) would require elementary and high school students to receive mandatory annual sex abuse training “to promote self-protection, prevent sexual abuse of children, and reduce child pregnancy.” Rep. Parker cited alarming statistics concerning sexual abuse of children, arguing children should be trained how to identify and handle assault.

HB 1033 by state Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne) would require the TEA to petition for a waiver of the annual alternative assessment of students with significant cognitive disabilities required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Rep. Burns suggested that individual admission, review and dismissal (ARD) committees should be empowered to determine which tests, if any, are appropriate. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 23 by Chairman Huberty would create a five-year grant program to provide money for districts and charters that provide innovative services to students with autism.  The total number of eligible school programs would be capped at ten, giving priority to collaborations between multiple districts and charters. Funds would be capped at $20 million total, and $1 million for each individual program. According to the fiscal note, HB would cost the state $258,000 through 2019 and $10.1 million each following year. Chairman Huberty argued the pilot program would help drive innovation in a much-needed area of education. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2623 by state Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) would require schools to create a personalized transition program for students returning after missing 30 instructional days or more because of placement in a juvenile center or hospital care. According to the fiscal note, districts may find it necessary to hire an additional counselor at an average annual salary of $63,000. Rep. Allen explained this is needed to help ensure that students who have been away from a public education setting for an extended period are able to be successfully reintegrated. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 194 by Vice-Chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) to create a special education endorsement. Vice-Chairman Bernal suggested the bill would rectify an oversight that has resulted in some special education students being unable to earn the endorsements needed to graduate.

HB 3439 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) would allow school districts to contract with a charter to operate a district campus and share teachers, facilities or resources. Such schools would be entitled to the greater of the funding per weighted average daily attendance (WADA) entitled to the district or the charter. Although the fiscal note projects no state expense through 2019, the program would cost the state $33.3 million in 2020, $44.4 million in 2021 and $55.5 million in 2022.

ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified against HB 3439, pointing out concerns regarding students and educators. Even though students in each attendance zone would be given preference, the new charter campus would still be allowed to cap enrollment and potentially exclude students who would otherwise be entitled to go to that school. Furthermore, the legislation is unclear as to whether district teachers could be transferred to the charter and lose the rights and protections of district employees.

The bill would also allow low-performing charters to take over campus management. Currently, charters rated “C” or “D” on the “A through F” accountability system could participate, and as a result, would benefit from a one-year pause in their accountability ratings. This provides an incentive for poorly-performing charters to partner with poorly-performing districts in order to enjoy an accountability holiday. ATPE suggests confining participation to charters with “A” or “B” ratings.

HB 2442 by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) would change “minutes of instruction” to “minutes of operation” for the purposes of determining the length of each school day. The TEA commissioner would determine how many minutes of operation are equivalent to a day of instruction. Instruction time would include recess and meals. The bill would also repeal the minimum length of the school day.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 2442, pointing out that the bill helps clarify the length of half-day pre-kindergarten for funding purposes.

HB 3157 by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) would modify eye exam rules to allow students to be screened using photoscreening. Advocates argued photoscreening is a more accurate and efficient method for detecting eye problems than eye charts, but school policies don’t always allow them.

Before concluding, Chairman Huberty suggested there could be a formal meeting later this week in order to advance additional bills pending in the committee.

A-F fix takes center stage in House Public Education

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider more than two dozen bills. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began the hearing with more discussion of House Bill (HB) 21, House leadership’s priority school finance bill that would add $1.6 billion to the public school system. Huberty announced that the much-anticipated committee substitute should be posted this week.

The committee heard extensive testimony over the last two weeks regarding how to structure $200 million allocated for hardship grants to ease the burden primarily on schools facing the expiration of Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) funding. Huberty indicated $125 million would be allocated the first year, and $75 million the second year. State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who chairs the subcommittee on Educator Quality, explained districts taxing at the max level will get larger prorated grants under the program. Grants could be no larger than the actual amount of the lost ASATR funding, or exceed ten percent of the overall grant.

Huberty added that House budget writers have identified $250 million of additional funds to bring the overall price tag of HB 21 to $1.9 billion. The chairman suggested those funds could be focused toward CTE, computer technology and bilingual education. Huberty concluded by stating his intention to finalize committee substitute language this week and hold a vote on the bill next week. ATPE continues to support HB 21 as an important step toward larger reform of the school finance system.

HB 1776 by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees public education funding, would replace the U.S. history end-of-course assessment with the same civics test administered to those applying for U.S. citizenship and allow students to take the test at any time, beginning in grade nine. Ashby argued the current U.S. history end-of-course exam is overly burdensome both for students and teachers. According to the fiscal note, the change would save an estimated $2 million through the biennium ending in August 2019.

HB 22 is Chairman Huberty’s answer to addressing some of the unintended consequences of the “A through F” accountability system. In short, the legislation would collapse the number of domains from five to three and eliminate the overall letter grade for schools and districts. The bill would also add a wide variety of additional performance indicators intended to decrease the reliance on standardized test data, and draw distinctions between “D” and “F” ratings – with particular regard to the accompanying accountability triggers.

Calling the system “flawed,” Huberty suggested HB 22 would move the emphasis away from standardized tests and factors influenced heavily by economic disparities. The bill is the product of collaboration between committee members, Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath and school administrators. The fiscal note estimates HB 22 would cost $4.5 million over the next biennium, and $3.5 million the following biennium.

The legislation would further delay implementation by another school year. Commissioner Morath told the committee that the legislation fixes “unintended mathematical consequences,” and said the additional time is needed to model changes and write new rules. Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers testified that letter grades fail to adequately capture performance, and were never intended to be part of the five-domain accountability system created by the 84th Texas Legislature.

Responding to concern raised by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) over the elimination of the overall grade, Huberty said “A through F” came with numerous problems. The scheme replaces the current pass/fail accountability system, under which 94 percent of schools are listed as meeting performance expectations. Under “A through F,” many schools and districts received poor grades despite being recognized by the state for outstanding performance during the same year.

“I’m tired of listening to rhetoric about our failing schools,” said Huberty, who suggested lawmakers should focus instead on finding and fixing issues leading to problems. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) agreed “A through F” doesn’t provide a “true picture” of what’s happening within public schools and local communities, and praised the bill as an important step toward improvement.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 22, pointing out that several states have recently repealed “A through F” systems over the same concerns. While grateful for the inclusion of a teacher quality component, ATPE advocated for ensuring value-added metrics (VAM) are not used for teacher quality measurement. ATPE also advocated for a statutory requirement that the commissioner include a panel of stakeholders, including parents and campus-level educators, in the rulemaking and implementation process. Additionally, ATPE advocated for adding a layer of simplistic language that is more descriptive than a single letter, and which would let parents know what each rating is telling them about their particular school.

Acknowledging the need to fix the shortcomings of “A through F,” Huberty told the committee, “We cannot go home without getting this done.” The chairman encouraged interested parties to continue to engage on HB 22, with a goal of finalizing a committee substitute before next week’s hearing.

HB 1336 by state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would require school districts to include in their annual financial management reports the costs associated with administering assessments required by state law. Leach pointed out policymakers don’t know how much the state is asking local districts to spend indirectly in order to administer tests. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 145 by state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would require any district with a student enrollment that includes more than 1,000 African-American males to use only the academic achievement differentials among African-American males for accountability purposes under the first domain of “A through F.” Supporters of HB 145 argue that empirical methods should be used to assess the differences in achievement for African-American males as a demographic group, with the goal of closing performance gaps and ending the reliance on anecdotal information. The fiscal note anticipates a cost of $273,000 the first year and $257,000 each subsequent year for the employment of two additional TEA positions to track the data.

HB 61 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would include metrics regarding the academic performance of students formerly receiving special education services on the list of performance indicators utilized by the “A through F” public school accountability system. Guillen argued the bill would give districts an incentive to encourage special education students to advance.

HB 79 by Rep. Guillen would eliminate the cap the percentage of special education students who take alternative assessments, as opposed to standard assessments. The bill would further prohibit using the percentage of special education students who take alternative assessments for performance, compliance or accountability purposes. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1500 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would add the percentage of students who earn an associate degree to the list of performance indicators under “A through F.” ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1057 by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would add pre-AP and pre-IB participation to the performance indicators under the “A through F” system, along with the percentage of student who have received credit by examination, the percentage of students who have been promoted over their grade level and the percentage who received a diploma in three years or less. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 1174 by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would add the percentage of students who have successfully completed on “OnRamps” dual enrollment course to the list of performance indicators under the “A through F” accountability system. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 988 and HB 989 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would create a pilot program to develop a portfolio method to assess student performance. HB 988 would create a program for grades three through eight and HB 989 would create a program for high school students. González explained balancing standardized test results with holistic measures would yield a much more useful and accurate picture of student performance. ATPE supports both of these bills.

HB 1650 by state Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) would allow a student who passes a dual credit course on U.S. history to skip the U.S. history end-of-course exam. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 795 by state Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) would require a committee appointed by the education commissioner to review any challenge to academic or financial accountability ratings raised by a school district or charter school, regardless of the issue. A successful challenge raised under this legislation would allow charter schools facing charter revocation due to unacceptable academic or financial accountability ratings to stop the clock on the proceedings under the current “three strikes” law.

HB 1993 by state Rep. Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie) would require the education commissioner to adopt procedures to identify nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment instruments as additional alternative assessment instruments that may be used to evaluate student achievement under “A through F.” The bill would further require the commissioner to apply for federal waivers to allow for multiple instruments for assessing students in the same grade. According to the fiscal note, HB 1993 would cost the state an additional $1.6 million per year.

HB 3607 by Rep. King would eliminate end-of-course exams for high school students. It would also require the commissioner to identify a procedure for districts to select the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) or a nationally recognized norm-referenced exam, such as the SAT or ACT, as the assessment instrument to be administered to students in grade 11. According to the fiscal note, HB 3607 would save the state $2.5 million per year.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on the bill. Acknowledging the laudable goal of reducing high-stakes testing, Exter noted that norm-referenced tests are not appropriate for accountability purposes because they are designed so that results will fall along a bell curve. ATPE warned against allowing districts to use multiple assessment instruments. Currently, the only benefit of a statewide testing system is data comparability, which is lost when districts use different tests. ATPE also advocated for educators to have a stronger role helping vet out test deficiencies at the agency level.

HB 1731 by Rep. King (R-Canadian) would exclude students who leave a residential treatment facility and fail to enroll in a nearby school from the calculation of those schools’ dropout rates, provided those students would not otherwise be enrolled there. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 515 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would eliminate writing and social studies assessments and require only end-of-course assessments in reading, math and science as required by federal law under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The writing assessment has long been criticized, and VanDeaver argued HB 515 could help reduce overtesting. Agency staff suggested that eliminating writing assessments could run afoul of the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation of federal guidelines, which could potentially result in a financial penalty. Staff suggested the conflict might be ameliorated by removing writing from the state’s English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) guidelines. The fiscal note estimates HB 515 would save the state $23 million through the next biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 2263 by state Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) would no longer require campus intervention teams to continue to work with “improvement required” campuses until two years after performance standards are met. Agency staff testified that the process was “resource intensive, without providing much feedback.” Staff suggested that resources may be better spent at the front end of the intervention process, and districts would be able to determine whether additional help is needed to keep campuses from regressing.

HB 3828 by Chairman Huberty would adjust the triggers for commissioner action for failing schools to include those “rated unacceptable” and confine criteria to the “school progress” domain of the “A through F” system. The bill would modify the commissioner’s power to oversee turnaround plans and curtail the commissioner’s power to manage failing districts and require district workshops. Importantly, the bill requires a written turnaround plan with the agency and clear guidelines for implementation. After listening to public testimony, Huberty committed to work on a committee substitute for future consideration.

HB 789 by state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) would allow Highland Park ISD to modify the cut score for an examination for acceleration, placing the limit at 90 percent, rather than 80 percent. Meyer explained that some students who passed with an 80 percent score struggled after advancing.

HB 546 by state Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) would also limit state-required assessment instruments to assessments required by federal law. The fiscal note estimates a $2.9 million savings over the biennium. Noting that the language of HB 546 is wholly contained within HB 515 by Rep. VanDeaver, Rep. Deshotel pulled his bill from consideration in favor of supporting HB 515. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 657 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would allow the Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARC) committee of a student who participates in special education to promote a special education student to the next grade level after failing an assessment just once, provided that the committee determines the student has made significant progress in the measurable academic goals contained in the student’s individualized education program. Bernal explained that the passing rate for special education students on state assessments is roughly 30 percent, and scores usually do not improve after the third administration. Rather than subjecting students to multiple unnecessary examinations, Bernal argued parents and educators should be allowed flexibility. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 3104 by Rep. VanDeaver would require the TEA to adopt or develop exams in English Language Arts (ELA) for grades four and seven and at the end of English I and English II, instead of writing. The bill’s committee substitute would create a one-year pilot program to allow districts and charter schools to choose their own assessment instruments for writing and required to report their results. The fiscal note anticipates HB 3104 would save the state $7.5 million each year.

After listening to testimony on HB 3104, Chairman Huberty briefly paused to read a message from his son’s English teacher pointing out that the STAAR end-of-course assessment is approaching next week. The teacher reported students are stressed, even with her words of encouragement. Regardless of the test results, the teacher said, she’s proud at work they’ve done.

“The teachers are trying, but we’re not arming them with the ability to do their jobs,” Huberty concluded.

HB 3075 by Chairman Huberty would exclude students detained in a juvenile detention facility and educated by a public charter school from the computation of dropout and completion rates for charter school accountability purposes. Huberty explained public schools are already exempt, and HB 3075 would allow the same rule to apply to charters.

All of the above bills were left pending. The committee voted out a number of previously heard bills during a break in Tuesday’s testimony. Members unanimously approved the following:

  • HB 1645, which would allow students to get a varsity letter for participating in the Special Olympics.
  • HB 728, which would create an advanced computer science course to satisfy the third math or science credit.
  • HB 367, which would allow schools to assign a nonprofit to distribute leftover food to hungry students.
  • HB 878, which would allow districts to extend depository contracts for three additional two year terms as opposed to two, and to modify the contract for any extension.
  • HB 1270, which would allow excused absences for students to visit a military recruiting facility in the same way they are currently allowed to visit a college or university.
  • HB 264, which would update the information and public outreach materials for HB 5 passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature and extend the time period required for reporting.
  • HB 136, which would add CTE and workforce training to the mission of public education.
  • HB 357, which would allow the children of first responders eligible for Star of Texas awards to receive free prekindergarten services.

Those bills will next head to the Calendars Committee to await a date for consideration before the full Texas House of Representatives. Before adjourning, Huberty referred the following bills to the Subcommittee on Educator Quality: HB 1799, HB 1869, HB 1918, HB 2209, HB 3769 and SB 7.

Huberty reiterated his intent to vote on a substitute for HB 21 next week. The next meeting will feature a variety of bills, including more legislation affecting charter schools.