Tag Archives: TEKS

House Public Education reviews grab bag of school bills

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to consider a score of bills touching a variety of subjects. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began the hearing by referring the following bills to the Subcommittee on Educator Quality, chaired by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian): HB 49, HB 218, HB 331, HB 333, HB 460, HB 816, HB 972, HB 1255, HB 1403, HB 1469 and HB 1485.

The day’s testimony began with HB 1291 by state Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), which would add “American principles” to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The TEKS would include the study of the Founding Fathers of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 639 by state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson (R-Waco) would authorize districts to obtain health benefit plan, liability or auto insurance for partner businesses and students participating in CTE programs. Anderson suggested insurance is important in the event of accidents related to CTE instruction.

HB 1645 by state Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville) would require school districts that offer varsity letters to adopt a policy that allows students to earn a letter for participating in a Special Olympics event. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 69 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) would require each school district and open-enrollment charter school to include in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) report the number of children with disabilities residing in a residential facility who are required to be tracked by the Residential Facility Monitoring (RFM) System and are receiving educational services from the district or school.

HB 264 by state Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) would require TEA to continue until 2020 providing outreach materials to districts required under Section 28.015, Education Code, regarding public school curriculum changes under House Bill 5, which passed in 2013. The section includes explanations of the basic career and college readiness components of each endorsement, requirements to gain automatic college admission, and financial aid requirements for the TEXAS grant and the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant Program. The section is currently set to expire September 1, 2018.

HB 452 by state Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) would require report cards to include the number of students in each class. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 728 by state Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-Mission) would create an advanced computer science program that would satisfy the curriculum requirements for a third math or science credit.

HB 1270 by state Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) would allow schools to excuse student absences for the purpose of visiting a military recruitment center. A similar provision currently allows for excused absences to visit a college or university campus.

HB 136 by state Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) would include a CTE objective under the public education objectives enumerated in Section 4.001(b), Education Code. The text would read, “Objective 11: The State Board of Education, the agency, and the commissioner shall assist school districts and charter schools in providing career and technology education and effective workforce training opportunities to students.”

HB 1389 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-Dallas) would include prekindergarten in the 22-student class size limit currently in effect for kindergarten through grade four. The bill would result in smaller class sizes for schools that are currently over the limit, but would not carry a significant fiscal impact to the state budget. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 710 by state Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) would extend free half-day prekindergarten to full-day for the same set of eligible students. Research has shown early childhood education improves student learning through the elementary grades, leading to improved educational outcomes overall. According to the fiscal note, the change would cost $1.6 billion over the 2018-2019 biennium. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 620 by state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would allow districts the option of moving the school start date to the second Monday in August, up from the fourth, and require instruction time measured in minutes, as opposed to days. This would allow districts more flexibility in scheduling, provide additional time to prepare for first semester assessments, and allow for earlier summer release. No fiscal impact to the state is anticipated. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill, pointing out that current restrictions can be burdensome when it comes to predictably and adequately allocating instruction time.

HB 729 by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) would integrate character traits instruction into the TEKS, and require a center for education research to study the effects of character traits instruction on student attendance and disciplinary problems. Bohac suggested emphasizing positive character traits would improve school performance overall. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in favor of the bill, noting that statewide standards would eliminate the patchwork implementation of character traits instruction.

HB 404 by state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) would create higher education curriculum review teams charged with reviewing changes to the TEKS. Currently, the State Board of Education (SBOE) appoints TEKS review committees composed largely of K-12 teachers, as well as up to seven “experts” as defined by board rules. This bill would define a process and expert panel with at least five years of higher education teaching experience in the relevant subject or a doctorate in education. The panel would be selected the Higher Education Coordinating Board and higher education commissioner, which would insulate the experts from the appearance of political influence. The bill would also protect the panel’s recommendations by setting a two-thirds vote threshold for SBOE.

Rep. Anchia described the bill as “a work in progress.” ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in favor of the bill, and advocated for ensuring that K-12 educators have a meaningful impact on the process as well. Recently, SBOE has taken steps to improve its TEKS review process, and ATPE supports a collaborative effort to codify improvements in statute in order to ensure the success of future reviews.

HB 539 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would allow the children of military service members to enroll full-time in the state virtual school network. According to TEA, roughly 12,000 students, about 0.3 percent of the state’s total enrollment, are currently enrolled in the virtual school network. Approximately 63,500 military dependents are enrolled in grades three through twelve. The Legislative Budget Board assumes 0.5 percent, or 318 students, would enroll in the virtual school network. Based on that, the fiscal note assumes the change would cost an additional $5.3 million – which Chairman Huberty and Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park) disputed, suggesting the expense was overstated.

HB 367 by Vice-Chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would expressly allow schools to donate surplus unserved cafeteria food to hungry children on campus through a third-party non-profit. Some schools already do this, but this bill would guarantee that right in statute and give rulemaking authority to the commissioner of education. No significant fiscal implication to the state is anticipated.

HB 357 by Chairman Huberty would extend free prekindergarten eligibility to the children of anyone eligible for the Star of Texas Award for police, firefighters and emergency medical first responders killed or seriously injured in the line of duty. According to the fiscal note, no significant impact on the budget is expected. ATPE supports this bill.

All those bills were left pending.

The board unanimously approved HB 223 by state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), which would provide districts the option of providing childcare services or assistance with childcare expenses to students at risk of dropping out through the existing compensatory education allotment. Since the allotment provides a set amount of funding, the change would not fiscally impact the state. The bill will head to the House floor next.

The committee also resumed consideration of HB 21, House leadership’s priority school finance bill that would add $1.6 billion to public education. Huberty warned that without HB 21, the budget would effectively fund $140 less per pupil and there would be no plan for dealing with the expiration of ASATR.

Noting he has had numerous meetings with stakeholders, Huberty suggested hardship grants for districts losing ASATR could be stair-stepped. Additional transportation funding could be capped at five percent of the total spend, Chapter 41 districts at 15 percent and ASATR at 80 percent, or $100 million in 2018 and $60 million in 2019. Discussing whether lawmakers should offer more or less flexibility regarding grant fund allocation, TEA recommended erring on the side of being more prescriptive in order to provide clear direction.

For the 327 school districts whose property taxes are maxed out at $1.17, the committee entertained testimony suggesting raising the yield on “copper pennies.” It’s important to note that the more the state spends on public education in general, the less school districts will be forced to rely on local homeowners for funding. In other words, real property tax relief – not the bumper sticker kind, but meaningful relief – begins with putting more state money into public education.

Concluding the hearing, Chairman Huberty signaled his intent to vote on a committee substitute at next Tuesday’s hearing. That meeting will focus on bills dealing with public school accountability, including “A though F.”

House Public Education Committee convenes first meeting


The House Public Education Committee met at the Texas State Capitol on Feb. 21, 2017. The committee heard invited testimony only.

The House Public Education Committee held its first meeting of the 2017 legislative session today, Feb. 21. Newly-appointed chair Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) began the hearing by appointing state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) chair of the Subcommittee on Educator Quality, where he is joined by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) as vice-chair and Reps. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston).

Chairman Huberty kicked off the hearing by noting the committee’s efforts to address school finance during the interim. After the Texas Supreme Court ruled the current system “lawful but awful,” according to Huberty, the committee spent much of 2016 working on fixes under the leadership of then-outgoing Public Education Committee chair Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) and Appropriations chair John Otto (R-Dayton).

Notably, Huberty vowed the committee would get to work on school finance early, and suggested the topic would be the focus of hearings during the next two to three weeks.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath briefed the committee on agency operations and priorities. The agency currently serves roughly 5.3 million students and oversees $56 billion in funds. About 348,000 teachers are employed across 8,685 campuses. Texas boasts an 88 percent high school graduation rate, despite serving a student body that is almost 60 percent economically disadvantaged.

Morath highlighted a brief list of priority initiatives, including an agency “lesson study” initiative – a professional development tool used to develop best approaches to individual Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) components – as well as high-quality pre-kindergarten, math innovation zones, and rolling out the “A through F” accountability system.

Chairman Huberty pressed the commissioner on several areas of recent interest, beginning with informal “caps” on special education enrollment unveiled by a Houston Chronicle investigation. Morath told the chairman the special education performance indicator at issue had “outlived its usefulness.” House Bill 363 filed this session by Huberty would require TEA to cease using the indicator. Morath assured the chair, “If for some reason it doesn’t pass, we’re going to do it anyway.”

Chairman Huberty also asked the commissioner about TEA’s interaction with testing vendor Educational Testing Service (ETS) over faulty STAAR tests. Morath said the agency has imposed financial penalties on ETS. Continuing on the testing subject, Huberty prodded Morath on efforts to shorten the STAAR test as required by Huberty’s House Bill 743 from the 2015 legislative session. Morath indicated the process of creating a shorter test has cost the agency more than anticipated, and teachers may not have been provided adequate practice time with testing changes.

In response to Huberty’s inquiry regarding Districts of Innovation (DOI), Commissioner Morath testified that 105 districts have applied for DOI status thus far. According to the commissioner, the most popular exemptions are from teacher certification requirements, the first day of instruction, and class-size limits.

With regard to charter schools, Morath told the committee the state currently hosts 178 public charter entities, which operate a total of 603 campuses and serve roughly 245,000 students – about five percent of the total student population. A total of 22 entities have had their charters revoked, and seven have been non-renewed.

Chairman Huberty pointed out the state has not reached the charter cap and is not in danger of doing so. Rep. VanDeaver, a former superintendent, noted that in districts forced to pay recapture such as Houston ISD, the state pays more to educate a student in a charter school than in a public school.

Finally, the committee received a briefing from Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim, who chaired the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. The 15-member commission was convened as a result of House Bill 2804 in 2015, and delivered a report to the legislature in August 2016, which included nine final recommendations for new systems of student assessment and public school accountability. You can read the commission’s full report here.

Chairman Huberty concluded today’s hearing by announcing that the committee will begin school finance discussions at the next meeting. The committee will hear from school districts when it meets again next Tuesday, and school finance bills will be posted for hearing the following week. Once those bills are voted out, Huberty said the committee will take up accountability issues, including A through F.


Rep. Dan Huberty

Related: House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty will be one of our legislative panelists for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training event exclusively for ATPE members on March 5, 2017.


SBOE Wrap-Up: November 2016

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

Mexican-American Studies

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

TEKS in the Crosshairs

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

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

Bond Guarantees

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

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

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

SBEC Rules

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

Legislative Recommendations

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


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

Thomas Ratliff

Thomas Ratliff

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

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


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 9, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are stories making education news in Texas this week:

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has adopted final rules to implement a 2015 law allowing for Districts of Innovation (DOIs), which are acceptably-rated school districts that opt to exempt themselves from some education-related laws in the Texas statutes. ATPE opposed the legislation last year granting school districts the right to those regulatory exemptions and allowing them to operate in a similar manner as charter schools. We submitted formal input to the commissioner on his proposed rules, urging for more safeguards to protect students, parents, and district staff from unforeseen and harmful consequences of broad exemptions.

Monty at DOI hearing

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at a hearing on proposed rules for Districts of Innovation.

One of ATPE’s foremost concerns about the DOI law was the potential for educators to lose their immunity protections in state law, particularly if a district opts to exempt itself from all available statutes under the new law as one large school district has already attempted to do. We are grateful that the commissioner and his staff listened to our concerns and added language to the final rules to prohibit districts from waiving educators’ immunity rights. While the DOI law remains highly problematic in many respects, the commissioner’s final rules will at least curtail the likelihood of costly litigation to determine what types of liability might attach to certain DOIs that have adopted blanket waivers.

Read more about the rules in this week’s blog post, and also peruse ATPE’s DOI resource page to learn more about the procedures and timeline for a school district to become a DOI, what types of laws can be exempted in those districts, and how educators and parents can have a voice in the DOI process locally.


Last week we reported that the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (TCONGAA) had finalized its report with recommendations to the Texas Legislature on testing and accountability. On the blog this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter breaks down each of the nine recommendations. Read his analysis here.


Today is the final day to submit comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) rules pertaining to assessment provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ATPE is pleased that a form of our previous input to Congress and ED is included in the rule proposal covering the newly created innovative assessment pilot.

As we state in our new round of comments submitted to ED, ATPE has encouraged policymakers to consider using “a scientifically valid sample of the student population to assess students and report disaggregated state-level data” in an effort to reduce “the time, emphasis, and expense placed on standardized testing.” The proposed rules will allow states to consider piloting a limited form of this testing structure at the district- and, potentially, state-level (up to seven states have the option to consider several types of innovative assessment systems and would have to submit an application for consideration by the department).

Still, it is not lost on ATPE that states’ ability to press the boundary is limited in the area where true innovation is needed. Our comments encourage the department to “look for opportunities to address the harmful nature of overusing standardized assessments as high-stakes and ineffective measures of success.” We’ve shared previous input with ED and Congress that highlights these concerns, and we remain committed to advocating for a reverse of the trend to increasingly use standardized tests as a high-stakes measure of success in public education.

The department released its proposed rules on the rule administering assessments, which were drafted by education stakeholders and professionals under a process referred to as negotiated rulemaking, and the rule pertaining to the newly created innovative assessment pilot in July. ED has released a series of draft ESSA rules over the past year and just last week released a highly anticipated proposal covering the controversial issue of supplement-not-supplant.


SBOE logoNext week will be a busy one for education policy stakeholders with several major hearings on the calendar. First, on Monday, Sept. 12, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE) are hosting a free public event in Austin called “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The day-long conference will feature presentations by state and national education researchers on the challenges of turning high-poverty schools into high-achieving schools. Texas has experienced a sharp increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students, which creates greater challenges for ensuring that they have opportunities to excel in school. ATPE will be attending the event and will report on it next week. Learn more about the event here.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the Senate Education Committee will conduct an interim hearing to evaluate digital learning opportunities and broadband access for schools and students. The committee will also monitor the implementation of a bill that allowed for students to use alternative measures to satisfy high school graduation requirements. ATPE strongly supported the bill creating graduation committees to evaluate certain students who had failed required STAAR exams. That bill is set to expire next year unless extended by the legislature in 2017. The Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility will also meet that same day to hear testimony on the extent to which state regulations are influenced by mandates attached to federal funding.

Also on the schedule for Tuesday are some high-profile SBOE meetings: SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board will begin with a morning work session on the curriculum standards for mathematics, followed by a public hearing on instructional materials submitted in response to Proclamation 2017. The hearing will be focused on a proposed new Mexican-American studies textbook that has generated controversy and national media attention. The textbook was developed by a publishing company headed up by Cynthia Dunbar, a former member of the SBOE. It is the only textbook of its kind being offered for the SBOE’s consideration at both its September and November meetings. A group of Texas educators and experts have reviewed the book and released a new report describing its content as offensive, biased, and filled with errors. A group called the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition plans to hold a rally to protest the book outside the TEA headquarters at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Sept. 14, SBOE meetings continue with its regular hearing by the Committee of the Full Board. Meanwhile, over at the Capitol there are two hearings of interest taking place that morning. First, the Senate Committee on State Affairs will discuss one of its interim charges to “examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues” and “make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.” ATPE has fought to protect educators’ rights to have access to payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to our association, which is not affiliated with a union, and we will continue our work to educate lawmakers on the realities of this practice, which does not require any expenditure of public funds.


At the same time, the Senate Education Committee will hold another interim hearing on Wednesday, this one focused on vouchers and other “school choice programs,” such as the use of education savings accounts or tax credit “scholarships.” The committee will also monitor the implementation of recent legislation that changed the minimum instructional requirements for students from days to minutes and House Bill 1842, which changed accountability sanctions and interventions and created the means for school districts to become Districts of Innovation.

Thursday, Sept. 15 has the Senate Finance Committee looking at property tax relief and other topics. SBOE meetings continue that day with agendas for the board’s Committees on School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/Permanent School Fund.

The SBOE will wrap up its week of hearings on Friday, Sept. 16, with its regular board meeting. Review agendas and times/locations for all of next week’s SBOE-related meetings here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these hearings from the ATPE lobby team next week.


ThinkstockPhotos-470725623_voteYou’ve probably heard about a little election that is scheduled to take place in November. Much is at stake in the general election for those with an interest in public education. Remember that you still have about a month left to register to vote if you or someone you know is not yet registered. Register by Oct. 11 in order to make sure your vote is counted in November. It’s important!



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEA launches online resource library for educators and parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re almost out of time to register to vote in the upcoming primary election. Read about the voter registration deadline, along with other election news and education stories from this week.

ThinkstockPhotos-481431733Monday, Feb. 1 is the last day you can register to vote in the upcoming March 1 primary elections. Click here to check the status of your voter registration through the Secretary of State’s office. For anyone not already registered, learn more about the voter registration process here.

Now more than ever, it’s critical for educators to show up at the polls in March. Many of the state’s most high-profile election contests will be decided in March through the primaries, making the November general election insignificant in many of those races. Voter turnout has been woefully low in recent years, but the 2016 races are too important for educators to ignore. Read more about why it’s so important for educators to exercise their right to vote in this recent letter from our allies at Friends of Texas Public Schools. Also, take a few minutes to visit the website of our partnership with TexasEducatorsVote.com and take the educator’s oath to show your commitment to participate in the elections.

Don’t forget about the great election resources available here on Teach the Vote. Search for legislative and State Board of Education candidates using our 2016 Races page, and then check out the candidates’ voting records and responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. If candidates in your area have not yet taken our survey, please encourage them to do so and share their views on public education with thousands of potential voters.

HD118map-smallerVoter turnout was extremely low in Tuesday’s special election runoff for House District 118, where former Rep. Joe Farias (D-San Antonio) stepped down from his seat leaving a vacancy. It’s reported that a total of only 3,601 voters in the San Antonio district went to the polls in the special election that wrapped up this week. Voters chose John Lujan (R) to fill the HD 118 vacancy for the remainder of this year. Lujan defeated Tomas Uresti (D) by a margin of only 161 votes, and overall turnout in the runoff was just over four percent of the registered voters in the district. Lujan and Uresti are among four candidates who are vying for the seat in the regular 2016 election. Access profiles of them on Teach the Vote’s 2016 Races search page.

In related news, a legislative resignation could prompt yet another special election in Bexar County. Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D) this week submitted an official letter of resignation from her House District 120 seat effective Jan. 31, 2016. McClendon has been a longtime supporter of public schools and educators. She has held the seat since 1996, but has faced serious health challenges in recent years, including a battle with lung cancer. McClendon had already announced her intent not to run for re-election in 2016, but her early resignation creates an opportunity for Gov. Greg Abbott to call yet another special election for a House seat in the San Antonio area. The governor has not yet made any official announcement. Six candidates are already vying to assume the HD 120 seat in the 2016 open race, and their profiles are also available here on Teach the Vote.

The Senate Education Committee is planning a Feb. 10 meeting in McAllen, Texas. The agenda includes a briefing on English Language Learning and monitoring legislation to address training support for counselors, advising courses for middle school students, and placement of video cameras in some special education classrooms. Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) of nearby Brownsville vice-chairs the committee and was the author of last year’s Senate Bill 507 requiring the addition of cameras in certain classrooms. Limited public testimony will be allowed at the McAllen hearing.

The House Public Education Committee has scheduled an interim hearing for Feb. 9 in Austin. The purpose of this meeting is, in part, to review the state’s current education policies and initiatives regarding middle grades and make recommendations on strategies to help students in middle grades prepare for future success. The committee will also review current public education programs that address the needs of high performing students, including consideration of whether the state’s accountability system should include a separate indicator for the academic performance of high achieving students. Limited public testimony will be allowed.

Related content:
 The Coalition for Public Schools is partnering with other groups to host a series of community meetings in different parts of this state during the interim. House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), pictured at right, is a featured speaker at some of the coalition’s events. Read our blog post from earlier this week to learn more about how you can participate.


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the meetings and contributed information for this report. On Tuesday, the board heard hours of public testimony on possible revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 110, which includes the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) in elementary, middle, and high school grades. No action has been taken at this point.

On the board’s action agenda this week was an opportunity for the SBOE to decide which vendors should oversee the state’s high school equivalency assessments, often known as GED tests, in Texas. SBOE members voted to award contracts to three companies: GED Testing Service, Data Recognition Corporation, and Educational Testing Service (ETS). As the Texas Education Agency noted in a press release issued today, the decision by the board “marks a shift from the use of a single testing provider to three.”

The SBOE also had an opportunity once again to review proposed changes to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) rules for becoming certified as a superintendent. SBEC’s original proposal to remove many of the prerequisities for superintendent certification was opposed by ATPE and rejected by the SBOE in November 2015. As a result, SBEC had to take the issue up again and pass a newer, slightly less controversial rule revision in December, which was once again submitted to the SBOE for review this month. At this week’s meeting, SBOE members opted to take no action on it, which means that the SBEC rule as most recently revised in December will now go into effect.

This morning, the board also had a chance to recognize the Texas Teachers of the Year and Superintendent of the Year. Revathi Balakrishnan, who is the 2016 Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year and an ATPE member in Round Rock ISD spoke to SBOE members about the need to give teachers time to teach. She was joined by Mary Ann Whiteker, Superintendent of the Year from Hudson ISD, who spoke about difficulties surrounding the emphasis on STAAR testing.

School Choice Week has been observed around the country this week and will spill over into the first part of February. Supporters of private and home schools are expected to attend a rally at the Texas State Capitol today. While organizers of the annual event are again predicting a crowd of “thousands,” similar rallies in recent years instead have drawn hundreds, even during a legislative session year. It’s reported that featured speakers for the event will include Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), who has sponsored voucher legislation, and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who also spoke at last year’s rally.

In Washington, D.C., a congressional hearing entitled “Expanding Educational Opportunity Through School Choice” that was originally scheduled for Jan. 26 but postponed on account of weather is now slated for Wednesday, Feb. 3. At the same time, lawmakers in several states are grappling with the issue of private school vouchers and related proposals to privatize public education. Read our blog post from yesterday to find out more about what’s being proposed in Tennessee, North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia.

You can also read why vouchers are such a pivotal issue in the 2016 elections right here in Texas and why it’s so important for educators to help decide who goes to Austin for the 2017 legislative session. As we noted in yesterday’s blog post, vouchers passed the Senate last year and were blocked in the House. A shakeup in the composition of the legislature could produce dramatically different results the next time around. Keeping enough pro-public education legislators in the House will be essential, and there are a handful of Republican primary races in the Senate that could also have an impact on the legislative landscape and the likelihood of a voucher bill passing next year.

Related content: Did you know that Teach the Vote offers valuable insights on candidates’ views about “school choice” issues? Our candidate profiles include information on major endorsements, indicating those running for legislative seats who have been endorsed by groups that openly support private school vouchers and home schooling initiatives. Plus, you can find out how your legislators voted on bills calling for private school vouchers and other privatization proposals. Visit our 2016 Races search page to read about the candidates in your area.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 22, 2016

Election season is here! Find what you need to know about voting and other education topics making news this week in today’s wrap-up:


Have you checked out the new candidate profiles on Teach the Vote? When you visit our 2016 Races page, you’ll be able to search and view profiles of every candidate for the legislature and State Board of Education. The profiles include details on how incumbent legislators voted on key bills pertaining to public education. Plus, all candidates have been invited to participate in our ATPE Candidate Survey, which enables them to share their views on major education issues.

If your favorite candidate has not yet answered our survey, please encourage him or her to do so! Teach the Vote offers a great way for candidates to share their education-related views with potential voters without incurring the costs of sending mail pieces or paying for advertisements. Candidates who need additional information may contact us at government@atpe.org.

We will continue to add more information to the candidate profiles as the primary elections draw nearer, so be sure to bookmark our site and check it again for updates.

Monday, Feb. 1 is the last day you can register to vote in the upcoming March primary elections. We urge all Texas educators to vote in the primaries and make sure they are registered. It’s important to remember that many of Texas’s hotly contested races will be decided in March based on the results of the primaries. This is particularly true in Republican primaries, where there are more candidates and contested races. In other words, the winner will already be known well before November’s general election, so it’s important for educators to have a voice in the selection process by casting their votes in March.


Click here to check the status of your voter registration through the Secretary of State’s office. Even if you’re already registered, make sure the people around you are registered! Learn more about how to register to vote here.

While you’re asking your friends and colleagues if they’ve registered to vote, encourage them also to visit TexasEducatorsVote.com and take the educator’s oath to vote in support of public education during the March primary election and November general election.


HD118map-smallerEarly voting began Wednesday and ends today in San Antonio’s House District 118, where a special election runoff is taking place to fill the remainder of the term of Rep. Joe Farias (D-San Antonio).

We posted a list of early voting locations on our blog earlier this week. If you live in HD 118 but did not get a chance to vote early, be sure to schedule time to make it to the polls on Tuesday, Jan. 26.

The candidates in the special election runoff are Tomas Uresti (D) and John Lujan (R). They and other candidates are also running to HD 118 for the next full term starting in 2017. View profiles of all the HD 118 candidates here on Teach the Vote by using our 2016 Races search page.

The Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability held its first meeting on Jan. 20. ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann attended the hearing, during which the commission heard invited testimony only, and provided this report.

The commission was established last session by House Bill (HB) 2804 and is tasked with developing a report to the governor and legislature by September 1 of this year. The report must make recommendations on changes to the assessment and accountability systems in Texas. Wednesday’s full day meeting was the first of six expected meetings.It was largely focused on educating members of the commission, with a bulk of the meeting dedicated to presentations by Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff about the past, present, and future of assessment and accountability in Texas. In addition, Andrew Ho, Professor of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, offered recommendations for design principles of assessment-based accountability systems.

We’ve previously reported on the members appointed to the commission and the shakeup in commission leadership after the originally-appointed chair, Mike Morath, was tapped to become Commissioner of Education. To watch the archived webcast of Tuesday’s meeting or access materials and additional information on the commission, visit the commission’s webpage here. Chairman Andrew Kim told attendees that the commission will probably take public testimony at its next meeting, which is expected to be scheduled for mid- to late February.

Meanwhile, the State Board of Education continues its series of eight related “community conversations,” hosted by SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich and other members. The events are designed to gather input from educators, parents, and the business community for the SBOE to present to the Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. The first two meetings were held in Houston and San Antonio, and an event took place in Austin this week, which ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter and several ATPE members attended. Co-hosts of the Austin event included SBOE members Sue Melton-Malone and Tom Maynard; also in attendance were local State Rep. Donna Howard, new Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, and two of the commission members, Theresa Trevino and Stacy Hock. Next on the calendar are SBOE community conversations in El Paso and Brownsville on Feb. 4th and 11th respectively. If you live in those regions of the state, look for additional details and registration links in your ATPE member newsletter next week.

Related content: Check out The Texas Tribune’s interview with Commissioner Mike Morath, which we republished this week on Teach the Vote.

The State Board of Education meets next week, Jan. 26-29, in Austin. View the complete agenda here. Among the agenda items is a discussion of proposed revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 110, which includes the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) in elementary, middle, and high school grades. A committee of the full board will hear testimony on the proposed changes on Tuesday, starting at 1 p.m. at the Texas Education Agency headquarters. Individuals wishing to testify at that hearing must register today or Monday. Read more about the SBOE’s public testimony rules here.

Monty Exter

Monty Exter

Cameras in special education classrooms have again sparked the interest of the media. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was interviewed for the talk radio show Houston Matters that airs weekdays on Houston Public Media News 88.7. The topic of the show this Thursday was the relatively new Texas law, Senate Bill (SB) 507 (2015), that requires schools to place video surveillance equipment in certain classrooms for special education students. Click here to listen to Exter’s interview about cameras in the classroom.

Related content: View ATPE’s FAQs on SB 507 here.


State Board of Education discusses testing, graduation requirements

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week, Sept. 9-11, in Austin.

The meeting started off with a lively exchange between SBOE board members and Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. The conversation ranged from implementation of new laws affecting the length of tests (HB 748 by Rep. Dan Huberty) to the graduation rate and how the Texas Education Agency calculates it, scores on STAAR tests covering the new math standards, and SAT/ACT scores and participation.

As part of its three-day agenda, the board also discussed graduation requirements, alignment of the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), potential funding for a long-range state education plan, and the process for the newest charter school applicants.

You can view the SBOE’s complete agenda for this week’s meetings here. Within the next several days, a link should be posted here, through which you may view archived footage of the meetings.

For any questions about the SBOE or the policies the board impacts, please contact the ATPE Governmental Relations department at government@atpe.org.

Abbott vetoes bill aimed at shrinking curriculum standards

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

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

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

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

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

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