A new subcommittee formed under the umbrella of the House Public Education committee is tackling issues related to teacher quality this legislative session. Chaired by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the Subcommittee on Educator Quality held a hearing today featuring invited testimony only. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was among the invited witnesses. Click here to watch archived video of the hearing.
Exter testified and answered questions about the new T-TESS evaluation model being piloted in several school districts. The model was developed and rolled out by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) largely in response to conditions attached to a waiver of federal accountability laws that the U.S. Department of Education granted Texas last year. The federal government has pressured Texas to replace its longtime evaluation model known as PDAS with one that focuses more significantly on student growth, to be measured by standardized test scores in many instances. TEA officials who also testified today were quick to point out that Commissioner of Education Michael Williams plans to proceed with implementation of T-TESS regardless of what happens with the state’s ESEA/NCLB waiver. ATPE and other groups testified today that absent more sufficient resources and training, T-TESS will not provide the ongoing feedback to teachers and more frequent observations that will distinguish it from its highly-criticized predecessor, PDAS. Exter recommended exploring the use of peer evaluations rather than relying solely on administrators to conduct observations and provide feedback to teachers.
TEA’s presentations to the subcommittee resulted in a fairly lengthy discussion of the state’s certification laws and how we prepare future teachers. Dr. David Anthony, who heads the advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas, highlighted the need for a dashboard that would enable legislators to see data on teacher certification and distinctions between the various types of educator preparation programs (EPPs) operating in Texas. Members of the subcommittee were especially interested in the differing types of preparation given to candidates pursuing traditional programs that have student teaching requirements and those admitted to alternative certification programs who receive a form of on-the-job training, working as a teacher of record before completing their training or passing their exams. Anthony also testified that Texas was somewhat unique in its tendency to allow for-profit companies to operate EPPs; he quipped, “Texas never met a certifying agent it didn’t like.” That prompted subcommittee members to bring TEA staff back up for additional questions about the state’s process and criteria for approving EPPs. “Who’s certifying the certifiers?” asked Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston).
ATPE’s Exter and other witnesses highlighted the need for raising the bar for educator preparation to more selectively recruit new teachers. Exter called it a way to affect educator quality without spending huge sums of money. The discussion included efforts by ATPE and other stakeholders to convince the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to raise the state’s minimum GPA for entering an EPP, which currently rests at 2.5 with exceptions and is viewed as one of the lowest standards in the country. SBEC declined to raise the GPA threshold despite a 2013 bill calling for higher minimum standards and a harsh rebuke by the State Board of Education. TEA staff testified that the statute was “confusing,” but noted that the board will be revisiting the issue at its upcoming SBEC meeting on Friday. Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown), a former educator who also served on the SBOE before joining the legislature, told TEA officials she was glad that SBEC was continuing to look at the GPA issue.
In a related hearing, the full House Public Education Committee also met today and voted out a series of bills with favorable recommendations. They included a bill to prevent schools from being penalized for poor test performance by students with limited Enlgish proficiency who’ve been enrolled in a U.S. school for less than 60 days; a bill requiring school districts to notify parents if they employ school marshals; and a measure to prevent limitations on the number of dual-credit courses in which a high school student may enroll.
Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates from the legislature and a report on Friday’s SBEC meeting at which GPA requirements for future teachers will be discussed.
Update: The March 6 SBEC meeting was cancelled because there were insufficient members present to constitute a quorum. It will be rescheduled in the near future.