Category Archives: Testing

Governor removes STAAR requirements for grade promotion, but state leaders show no intent to waive testing in 2020-21

On Monday, July 27, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced that STAAR scores would not be required factors in determining fifth and eighth grade promotion next year. Additionally, students in fifth and eighth grades will only take their STAAR assessments one time, as re-takes will not be necessary. This is a welcome development for the upcoming school year, providing some relief of both educators’ and parents’ anxiety knowing that student scores will not be accurate indicators of learning due to the pandemic.

The sentiments provided by state leadership in Abbott’s announcement indicate that the state has no intention at this time to fully waive standardized testing, even as calls from stakeholders and state legislators have increased over the past month to suspend this year’s testing cycle. While districts are set to be rated “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster” for the 2019-20 school year, Abbott said in his press release, “The traditional A-F rating system will remain in place, albeit with certain adjustments due to COVID-19.” It is unclear what these adjustments will be.

Other states, such as Georgia and South Carolina, have already taken steps toward requesting a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) from federal standardized testing requirements. Based on the statements of Texas state leaders, who want to maintain testing for diagnostic and accountability purposes, Texas does not seem likely to make such a request from the federal government unless the legislature takes action on the matter in the 2021 session. Furthermore, Jim Blew, an assistant secretary at ED, told reporters last week that assessments provide transparency on school performance and that the department’s “instinct” would be to decline testing waivers.

As previously reported here on our blog, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has touted diagnostic benefits of STAAR when asked by other elected officials about seeking another waiver of federal testing requirements. Morath also highlights the fact that TEA has already extended the online assessment windows for STAAR and STAAR Alternate 2, allowing anywhere from two- to six-week testing windows for the 2020-21 school year. These optional extensions only apply to online test administrations and have not yet been announced for the TELPAS tests. TEA has also stood up optional beginning-of-year assessments that use released STAAR questions to test prior year content.

In accordance with a resolution adopted by our 2020 House of Delegates during the recent ATPE Summit, ATPE has been urging state leaders to suspend 2020-21 STAAR and TELPAS testing requirements. Because it may be left up to state legislators to take action on this issue, it is important that they hear from their constituents who care about this issue. Visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central (member login required) to share your voice with your elected officials on testing or any other education issues.

ATPE House of Delegates adopts resolutions on COVID-19 educational considerations

This week, over 2,000 educators convened for the 2020 ATPE Summit, held virtually for the first time. The ATPE House of Delegates (HOD) met Thursday, July 9, for the association’s annual business meeting. Delegates from every region of Texas convened to elect state officers and adopt policies and official legislative positions of the association on behalf of its 100,000 members.

The HOD adopted two new resolutions pertaining to education and safety concerns of school employees as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic:

RESOLUTION #1:

RESOLVED, that ATPE urge the state to safeguard the health and safety of students and educators by delaying in-person instruction until Texas has demonstrated a flattened curve in the number of COVID-19 cases; and

RESOLVED, that ATPE urge the state to require local school districts to include educators and parents in the development of plans for the safe re-entry of students and district employees; and

RESOLVED, that ATPE urge the State of Texas and our U.S. federal government to allocate emergency funds for substitutes in case of mandatory quarantine requirements for district personnel.

During debate on the resolution, ATPE members cited the fears expressed by teachers who have compromised immune systems or pre-existing conditions, especially in light of a recent, rapid increase in the number of cases. Delegates also spoke about the difficulty of containing viral spread, especially if teachers are placed in classrooms with students who may not be required to wear masks, and expressed doubt about the ability to carry out contact tracing in schools. With some teachers feeling that they are being asked to make unreasonable sacrifices in order to hasten a reopening of schools that is motivated by economic factors or political pressure, ATPE members are recommending a delay in returning to campuses in order to keep everyone safe. Only one delegate spoke against the resolution noting that ATPE has already been urging the state to take steps to safeguard the health and safety of educators and students.

RESOLUTION #2:

RESOLVED, that ATPE urge the State of Texas and the U.S. Department of Education to waive requirements to administer the 2020-21 STAAR and TELPAS due to the disruption of in-person instruction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The author of this resolution on standardized testing argued that students have lost critical learning time as a result of the pandemic and that teachers’ time should be devoted to fostering student learning rather than test preparation. Speakers observed educational quality varied widely as COVID-19 forced a sudden shutdown of schools. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the U.S. Department of Education both waived requirements to administer STAAR exams this spring. The ATPE resolution was amended yesterday to include the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) as well as the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR), based on discussion about the importance of both tests and a plea to prevent English language learners who are struggling in an online learning environment from being subjected to unfair testing through the TELPAS.

Read ATPE’s statement about the newly adopted resolutions here. These resolutions will be implemented by the association over the next year and along with the ATPE Legislative Program will guide ATPE’s continuing advocacy work on numerous issues, including the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Guest Post: One parent’s questions about TEA’s optional assessments

Kristi Hassett

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced recently the implementation of optional standardized end of year (EOY) and beginning of year (BOY) assessments as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One concerned parent shares her concerns about the testing.


I am thankful the Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath advocated in March to remove the state assessment requirements for our Texas students this school year. I also appreciate the information posted by TEA to districts and parents during this pandemic. I was surprised the TEA released a statement on May 7th that parents and schools could choose to give their students a version of STAAR. TEA suggested these End of Year (EOY) assessments would provide a better understanding of the progress their students have made this year.

My primary concern is how the TEA will use the data to research the statewide educational impact of the current crisis to prepare for the next school year. This leads me to multiple questions. How valid will this limited dataset be? How will this data be used? If only a small portion of students participate, how will it provide any insight into the statewide education impact on students? Drawing group or statewide decisions, conclusions, or recommendations on this limited data is problematic at best and potentially harmful at worst.

Another issue with using these optional tests is the TEA will continue to post-equate the EOY assessments. Post-equating is a statistical process, rather than an educational analysis, used to adjust scores after the students take the test so TEA can compare tests from year to year. How can TEA use such a limited student dataset to scale the scores to compare against previous tests?

Another concern I have is Texas Partnership campuses (Senate Bill 1882), which are controlled by charters and universities, may choose to administer the EOY assessments even if the district chooses not to administer these tests to its students.

My last concerns surround the TEA’s new, optional Beginning of Year (BOY) assessment for next school year. Districts are only allowed to benchmark the state’s assessment twice a year; thus, how is the TEA using all of these assessments – the EOY, BOY and Interim assessments? Also, the TEA has said these BOY assessments are diagnostic. Knowing STAAR questions have multiple embedded TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills learning standards), how is the TEA going to provide results to teachers and schools to identify deficits in students? The results provided after STAAR are not diagnostic.

Everyone is working very hard during this pandemic to support students educationally and mentally. Rather than taking a very small, possibly invalid dataset of student assessment to prepare students for next school year, I think the TEA should broadcast known strategies schools have used in the past to create authentic, effective learning for students.


Kristi Hassett is a mother of two public school graduates and another current public school student in Texas. An elected school board trustee, Hassett also serves on the board of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessments (TAMSA), a group of Texas parents concerned about the overuse and potential abuse of Texas’ standardized testing regime.

Feds announce availability of student testing waivers

The U.S. Department of Education today signaled its willingness to waive federal testing requirements for the 2019-20 school year for students who are impacted by school closures due to the coronavirus outbreak. According to its March 20 press release, the Education Department will waive the requirements for any state that submits a “proper request.” Texas already announced it was waiving state requirements for STAAR testing for the 2019-20 school year and seeking a federal waiver, and today’s announcement by the federal government supports this decision.

According to additional TEA guidance released this week, STAAR assessments in grades 3 through 8 planned or April, May, and June 2020 are cancelled. Student Success Initiative (SSI) requirements for promotion or retention are also waived for the current school year. Districts will be given discretion in deciding whether to promote students to the next grade, with consideration given to teacher recommendations, student grades, and other academic information.

STAAR End-of-Course (EOC) assessments are also waived for the 2019-20 school year. Districts will be allowed to utilize the individual graduation committee (IGC) process to determine graduation eligibility for all five STAAR EOC courses. On Thursday, the agency issued FAQ related to assessments, which you can find here.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

At the federal level, additional relief is on the way for college and university students and those paying off student loans. The Education Department under direction from Secretary Betsy DeVos has suspended interest on all federally held student loans for the next 60 days. Additionally, students will be able to place their loans into forbearance for at least two months. According to the press release: “Secretary DeVos has directed all federal student loan servicers to grant an administrative forbearance to any borrower with a federally held loan who requests one. The forbearance will be in effect for a period of at least 60 days, beginning on March 13, 2020. To request this forbearance, borrowers should contact their loan servicer online or by phone. The Secretary has also authorized an automatic suspension of payments for any borrower more than 31 days delinquent as of March 13, 2020, or who becomes more than 31 days delinquent, essentially giving borrowers a safety net during the national emergency.”

Bloomberg News is also reporting that under federal stimulus legislation currently being considered in the U.S. Senate in response to the outbreak, students could defer student loan payments up to six months. The proposal would also protect existing federal student aid benefits for students who have to withdraw from classes due to the outbreak. As we have been reporting here on Teach the Vote, ATPE is closely watching the legislative proposals being considered by Congress and will report on any significant developments of interest to educators.

For additional resources for educators dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, visit ATPE’s FAQ and Resources page here.

Coronavirus and Texas education: Policy implications as of March 16

Here’s a rundown of the latest information we have so far regarding how the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is impacting the public education system in Texas. Governor Abbott announced Monday morning that the state is waiving STAAR testing for the 2019-2020 school year and is requesting a federal testing waiver from the U.S. Department of Education.

The governor repeated this announcement in a Monday afternoon press conference on the latest state actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19. According to the governor, 57 Texans across 15 counties have confirmed cases of COVID-19. Little more than 200 people have been tested, and the state is waiting on the results of 300 more individuals. More than half of school districts are closed (a listing can be found here).

The announcement regarding STAAR testing came following calls to cancel the test from elected officials and stakeholders all over Texas over the past week. Many warned that lost instruction time, the unknowns introduced by distance learning required by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), questions over online testing, and the stress on students caused by coronavirus concerns would render any results unreliable for statistical and accountability-related purposes. You can read more on that in this breaking news post from earlier today.

According to reporting by the Texas Tribune, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told leaders over the weekend that schools could be closed through the end of the school year. Morath reportedly indicated those decisions would be left to local superintendents. Superintendents will also be allowed to administer the STAAR for their own purposes if they choose to do so, although it will not be required by the state. Specific guidance regarding students who would otherwise be required to take the STAAR in order to graduate or advance is expected later this week.

The College Board announced it is cancelling SAT tests scheduled for May 2, as well as makeup exams for the March 14 administration that were scheduled for March 28. The College Board stated it will work to provide additional testing opportunities as soon as feasible.

The TEA released an initial guidance and FAQ last week in which the agency announced schools seeking state aid and waivers due to the coronavirus would be required to provide some form of distance learning to students who remain home, regardless of whether those students are at home by choice or due to school closures.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released an updated nationwide guidance this weekend that recommends canceling or postponing gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. The guidance makes exceptions for schools, institutes of higher learning, and businesses. In a news conference Monday afternoon, the White House suggested limiting gatherings to ten people.

ATPE has compiled and is frequently updating a list of general information regarding the COVID-19 coronavirus, which we encourage you to check out here. We’ll continue to use Teach the Vote for updates to how Texas government and state agencies are handling the outbreak with respect to public education.

BREAKING: STAAR testing waived for 2019-20 school year

Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Monday that Texas is waiving STAAR testing requirements for the 2019-20 school year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Both the agency and the governor’s office shared the announcement via social media this morning:

TEA responded with the following statement:

State officials are also asking the U.S. Department of Education to waive federal testing requirements. Along with the announcement, the governor emphasized the agency’s efforts to help schools continue to deliver instruction to students who are at home because of coronavirus concerns or school closures, including students with special needs. Ensuring that students have access to meals has also been a top priority.

Late last week, as ATPE lobbyists shared on Twitter, we saw a growing, bipartisan push for cancelling the required state testing this year. Numerous elected officials, school superintendents, educators, parents, and non-profit associations from all parts of the state were asking state officials to suspend STAAR testing for the current school year.

It is very important to acknowledge that there are many unanswerable questions at this time about the decision to cancel STAAR tests this year, as well as questions about how long schools may be closed. Many aspect of the Texas public education system and numerous programs are tied to the tests. It is simply too early to know how this change will affect other programs, such as graduation requirements for students, school accountability ratings, and educator compensation plans that involve student test performance. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is communicating daily with school district officials, and ATPE is monitoring these communications. We will continue share information and recommendations for educators as we learn more about the state’s response to this rapidly evolving crisis. We urge educators to keep in mind that the foremost concern and top priority is and should be the health and safety of students, public school employees, and our communities; all other considerations are secondary at this point.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on political and regulatory developments, and be sure to monitor ATPE’s coronoavirus FAQ page for the most comprehensive resources and tips on responding to the outbreak.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 6, 2020

Election day was this week on Tuesday, March 3, and Texas is abuzz with the results. The ATPE Governmental Relations team has the scoop on what happened at the polls and other education news. Also happening this weekend: don’t forget to move your clocks forward one hour on Sunday!



BREAKING NEWS: Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other city officials held a press conference this afternoon to announce the decision to cancel the massive SXSW conference slated to begin next week amid concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus. Conference organizers quickly issued a statement indicating that they are exploring options for rescheduling the event and/or changing some of the programs to an online format. The cancellation also includes SXSW EDU, in which ATPE was slated to participate. We will report additional details about the cancellation as we learn them.

Meanwhile, school officials in Texas have been closely watching developments with the coronavirus. During an interview with the Texas Tribune on Friday, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath repeated that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) continues to monitor the virus. TEA sent a memorandum to school administrators last Friday advising that the agency is monitoring media reports and information shared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and working with other state agencies to provide guidance to local school districts. The memo included the following list of general practices that will help prevent the spread of the illness:

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • If you’ve not already gotten one, a flu shot is encouraged.

Today, TEA sent updated correspondence to school districts offering guidance on dealing with students and staff who may travel over the spring break. TEA also used today’s letter to urge schools to deep clean and disinfect their facilities over the break.

According to news reports, a school district in San Antonio undertook a major cleaning of one of its elementary schools after learning that an employee of the school also worked in a local mall where an infected person reportedly visited. A spokesperson for Northside ISD told KSAT that the district took the step in order to “get ahead of false information.” In the Houston area, where a 70-year old Fort Bend man was diagnosed with the first local case of coronavirus, Pearland ISD announced this week that it would suspend perfect attendance rules for the remainder of the school year, as well as exam exemption criteria. Fort Bend ISD has not canceled any classes, and Fort Bend County has set up a hotline with information regarding the virus. Read more in this article from the Houston Chronicle.


ELECTION UPDATE: The percentage of voters who turned out during Texas’ primary elections on “Super Tuesday” was slightly lower than in the 2016 primary, with over 4 million casting votes. The number of voters in each party’s primary was split nearly 50-50.

In many races, Tuesday’s primary winner will be unopposed or face weak opposition in the November general election in November. Other races are headed to a runoff, including those of four incumbents in the state legislature. Read more on the results here.

Even if you didn’t vote in this primary election, you may still be able to vote in a runoff to make your voice heard on May 26, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in a primary election runoff is April 27, 2020, and early voting will begin May 18. Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to view an election countdown, get text reminders, and find additional election-related resources for educators. Also, remember that you can view candidate profiles and responses to ATPE’s candidate survey here on Teach the Vote. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey.


On Wednesday, March 4, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the School Safety and Victims’ Services Research Survey, to be distributed to approximately 500,000 educators across Texas. Read more about the survey in this article from the Texas Tribune. A link to the survey, which is said to take 20 minutes to complete, will be sent directly to educators. The results will provide invaluable educator input regarding school safety and will inform policy at the state level. Be sure to weigh in on this important topic!

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has also begun distribution of a voluntary survey aimed at high school counselors. School districts will receive the High School Counselor Survey and forward the link to their high school counselors in order to send information back to the TEA and the American Institutes for Research, “about the resources, activities, and tools that their teams use to assist students.” Read more about the High School Counselor survey from TEA here.


FEDERAL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has announced a delay in changes that would reduce funding for many rural schools. Hundreds of rural schools around the country were facing funding cuts pursuant to a new federal interpretation of eligibility criteria for Rural Low-Income Schools (RLIS) grants. The department announced this week that it would postpone the change for at least another year, following criticism Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos received from members of Congress. Read more in this Teach the Vote blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reports that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is sharing examples of some new STAAR test questions. House Bill (HB) 3906 passed by the Texas legislature in 2019 eliminated the STAAR writing tests given in grades 4 and 7. However, this change won’t take effect until Sept. 1, 2021, which means the grades 4 and 7 writing assessments will stay the same until the 2021-22 school year. Instead of standalone writing assessments, writing content will be assessed in the reading and language arts STAAR tests, as discussed below.

Sample STAAR revising and editing question, grade 4 (Source: TEA)

TEA will begin field-testing revising and editing questions on the reading/language arts STAAR test as part of the Spring 2020 and Spring 2021 assessments. These items will not impact accountability. To help educators understand what these new test questions will look like, the agency has released sample test questions such as the one pictured here.


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath spoke Friday, March 6, at a live event hosted by the Texas Tribune and sponsored in part by ATPE. In an interview with the Texas Tribune‘s Evan Smith, Commissioner Morath touched on several topics, including the state’s preparedness for dealing with the coronavirus and implementation of House Bill (HB) 3. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes, staff lobbyists, and members of our marketing and communications department attended the event. During an audience Q&A portion of the interview, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter asked the commissioner about teacher preparation and certification in light of state laws that exempt many school districts and charter schools from the requirement to hire certified teachers. The the commissioner responded that he believes teachers should undergo “extraordinarily robust training.” Watch video of the full interview with Commissioner Morath here.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 28, 2020

Today is the last day of early voting in Texas! Whether you’ve already had your close-up with the ballot box or plan to vote on March 3, catch up on the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Today, Feb. 28, is the last day of early voting. Voter turnout has been steady in the state’s largest counties. Texas’ primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020. For the latest news on races in Texas, check out ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’ “election roundup” blog post.

If you haven’t made it to the polls yet, we’re bringing it back to basics to get you vote-ready.

    • WHO? Visual learner? Watch this video to learn how to view candidate profiles on Teach the Vote, which include responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, encourage them to contact ATPE Governmental Relations for additional details. It’s not too late!
    • WHAT? We’ve received many questions about the party-based, non-binding propositions that are on your primary ballot. Learn more about these philosophical statements proposed by the state’s Democratic and Republican parties in this Teach the Vote blog post. These measures won’t change the law, but they help state party leaders learn more about their voters’ opinions on key issues.
    • WHERE? Use Vote411.org to find your polling location and build a customized ballot that you can print out and take with you to the polls. (You won’t be able to use your phone inside the voting booth.)
    • WHEN? Today or March 3! Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to view an election countdown, get text reminders, and find additional election-related resources created for educators.
    • WHY? Did you know that some races are determined entirely by the primaries? Read more about why it is important to vote in the primaries in Part I and Part II of Teach the Vote’s “Primary Colors” blog series.
    • HOW? Get the scoop on how to vote, including guidance on new balloting systems in use in many polling places. Click here for tips!

Want even more? Read all the fantastic election features in our latest issue of ATPE News for Spring 2020 and find additional election reminders and tips on ATPE’s main blog at atpe.org. As you’re researching candidates and building your ballot, check out video of the recent candidate forums conducted around the state by Raise Your Hand Texas to learn more about the candidates’ views on public education.


FEDERAL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has released the federal teacher shortage areas for Texas in 2020-21, which are largely consistent with those listed in 2018-19 and 2019-20. These include Pre-K-12 bilingual education, special education, and computer science, plus 7-12 career and technical education and mathematics. Since 2019-20, computer science as a shortage area has been expanded from only at the secondary level to covering all grades, likely reflecting career and technical needs across the country in our changing economy. The nationwide teacher shortage areas have implications for federal loan forgiveness and deferment options.

On Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sat before the U.S. House Appropriations education, health, and labor subcommittee to defend President Donald Trump’s education budget proposal, which we wrote about here on Teach the Vote. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reports that members of Congress questioned the secretary on several issues, including spending and scandals associated with charter schools, discipline practices for vulnerable students, concerns about child vaping, and the mechanics of the proposed consolidation of 29 federal programs into one block grant. Secretary DeVos defended much of the proposal by stating that the department’s intent is to give more spending freedom and flexibility to states.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Feb. 27, 2020 (Source).

Much of the hearing was devoted to criticism and defense of the proposed “Education Freedom Scholarships” and the civil rights risk associated with the department’s lack of commitment to ensuring non-discrimination. DeVos insisted that, because the scholarship program would be administered through the U.S. Department of Treasury, the voucher-like tax credit was not federal funding. This would free the program from being tied to federal protections for students such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and it seemed apparent that many committee members understood this impact. View video of the hearing here.


The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) conducted a survey of Texas public school districts on salaries during the fall of the 2019-20 school year. Just under half (49%) of districts responded, representing 84% of the estimated teacher population in Texas. According to respondents, the median starting salary for a new teacher is $44,000. This increase of 7.3% from 2018-19 is largely due to the passage of House Bill (HB) 3 and represents a one-time bump in salaries unless the Texas legislature increases the public school basic allotment again. A similar superintendent survey conducted by TASB showed a 3.1% increase in the average superintendent’s salary from 2018-19. See the full TASB teacher compensation survey for more information, including stipend trends and substitute pay. In both surveys, educators who work in larger districts were shown to receive higher pay.


In December 2019, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reviewed Part I of a recent readability study of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Mandated by the Legislature as part of last year’s House Bill (HB) 3, the findings in Part I left many questions unanswered. Chevalier reports that with the recent release of Part II, the study is now complete, but it still leaves us wondering if STAAR tests are written at the appropriate grade-level, as the results are mostly the same as in Part I.

Using 2020 STAAR assessments, researchers found that 99.5% of test items were aligned to the TEKS curriculum standards. As in Part I, researchers could not answer if items were at a grade-appropriate readability level due to a lack of confidence in methods and analysis. Lastly, the passage readability results were mixed, with researchers reporting multiple methods of analysis that lead to different conclusions.

Because this non-peer-reviewed study is entirely inconclusive on item readability and presents unclear results on passage readability, many questions remain as to the appropriateness of the use of STAAR in high-stakes decisions. As noted by Chevalier, if a student cannot understand a question because it uses vocabulary outside the scope of the student’s common knowledge, the child cannot be expected to answer it correctly.


Texas Senate Finance committee meets Feb. 25, 2020

The Senate Finance Committee met in Austin this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that among other agenda items, the interim hearing included a review of the investment strategies and performance of funds invested through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), the Permanent School Fund, and university funds. The committee has been charged during the interim with making recommendations to better coordinate and leverage Texas’ purchasing power to maximize investment income for the state.

The committee also added to its agenda an examination of the long-term facility plans of TRS, including specifically examining the facility space costs of housing TRS’s Investment Management Division. TRS Executive director Brian Guthrie delivered two presentations to the board: the first on TRS investment strategies and the second on long-term space planning for the agency.


Another poll shows strong support for public education

On the heels of a voter survey conducted by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune regarding state funding for public education (republished on Teach the Vote here), the Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) Foundation has also released a new statewide poll this week about Texans’ attitudes toward public education. Both polls show support for public schools and educators with a desire for increased funding of public education.

The RYHT Foundation poll found that 77 percent of Texans express trust and confidence in their teachers, and 70 percent believe that teacher pay is too low. The poll also showed that 60 percent of the Texans responding were concerned that our state’s standardized tests may not effectively measure student learning. Half the respondents said they were not confident that Texas’s “A through F” accountability grading system accurately represents school quality. The poll also asked respondents about the top challenges they believe teachers are facing, the biggest problems affecting the public schools in their communities, and what their feelings are about wraparound supports for students, such as mental health services.

In a press release from RYHT, Foundation President Shari Albright said, “We’re pleased to be the first organization in the country to commit to an annual statewide poll about public education issues.” Albright added, “We thought it important to provide this service to Texans on an annual basis, both to understand the challenges and help find ways to improve our public schools.”

Read complete results and additional information about the new RYHT Foundation poll here.

Compensation, testing, and TRS top issues in ATPE’s “Your Voice” survey

From November 2019 through early January 2020, ATPE members had the opportunity to take a short, three-question survey through Advocacy Central. Powered by a service called Voter Voice, Advocacy Central is a tool that ATPE members can use to be active advocates for Texas education policy.

Respondents were asked to choose their three top education policy issues from a comprehensive list. These issues were ranked most important by survey respondents:

#1 – Educator Compensation and Benefits

#2 – TIE: Standardized Testing / Teacher Retirement System (TRS)

In this blog post, we dive deeper into each of these issues, highlighting recent legislative actions and policy considerations. Then we’ll look at what’s next and pinpoint specific ways that educators can actively influence the treatment of these issues in the future.

Educator Compensation and Benefits

The issue of teacher pay skyrocketed as a priority among Texas legislators and state leaders after educators hit the polls in 2018 – from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick including teacher pay raises in his campaign messaging, to Governor Greg Abbott declaring teacher pay an emergency item, to a non-negotiable inclusion of teacher pay into school funding proposals. Teacher pay is obviously a major factor in the state’s ability to recruit and retain a high-quality teaching workforce. Also, with healthcare costs on the rise, educators’ take-home pay has a direct influence on their health and wellness, which impacts productivity and absenteeism along with costs to the employer.

Due to its far-reaching importance in the short- and long-term, increasing educator compensation has been an ATPE legislative priority. In the 2019 legislative session, the ATPE lobby team advocated for compensation plans that included educator input, meaningful factors other than students’ standardized test scores, and alignment with other efforts to promote and enhance the education profession.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the major school funding proposal passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2019, did several things that impact educator compensation and benefits. The bill made it possible for many school districts to access substantial additional funding, such as through allotments for mentoring and incentive pay for teachers,  money for extending the school year, and an increase in the basic allotment to facilitate pay increases for classroom teachers and other full-time employees in non-administrator roles. HB 3 also raised the state’s minimum salary schedule (MSS) for teachers and other certified educators, up to $5,500 to $9,000 per year of service. This change to the MSS lifted the base pay for many educators, provided raises for some, and increased the state’s share of TRS pension contributions while lowering the district’s share.

As it stands, most (but not all) Texas public school teachers received a pay raise due to increased school funding under HB 3. The bill mandated that districts use 30% of their state funding increase on compensation, with a special priority for teachers with more than five years of experience. The jury is still out on what those raises looked like across the state and whether teachers feel positively impacted by their raise, if any. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is expected to begin gathering data from districts on compensation with a report to legislators in March of 2020. See what some districts have done for their teacher raises in this blog post from our “New School Year, New Laws” series.

HB 3 also included the “teacher incentive allotment” (TIA), which began as strictly merit pay but was eventually modified to specifically prohibit school districts from being required to use standardized tests to evaluate teachers for purposes of this funding. For districts that are ultimately approved to participate in the TIA, they must create local designation systems that will allow for additional state funding ranging from $3,000 to $32,000. The additional funding from this allotment flows to the district, not directly to the teacher, and is based on the number of teachers in the district who receive certain designations as determined by the district (Master, Exemplary, or Recognized) and where those teachers teach (high-needs or rural campuses draw down more dollars). TEA recently released correspondence to districts regarding their TIA applications to the agency. Some districts that already have incentive programs in place, like Dallas ISD and Austin ISD, will likely apply to TEA to be in the first cohort to receive funding in the fall of 2020.

Learn more about the intricate ins-and-outs of HB 3 in this blog post here on Teach the Vote and in TEA’s “HB 3 in 30” video series, which details several aspects of the bill relating to compensation.

Standardized Testing

Testing is a major issue for teachers, especially when there is so much riding on the results, such as school grades, closures, sanctions, and even teacher pay. Testing also seems unfair for many students who have special needs, are learning English, are new to the country, or have test-taking anxiety. Teachers know that an entire year of their students’ hard work and social, emotional, and academic growth could never be captured on a single day’s standardized test.

The largest testing bill that passed during the 2019 legislative session – HB 3906, by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) – made several changes to state assessment administration and content. Here are highlights of what the bill prescribes:

  • Multiple smaller test sections that can be administered over multiple days (operational by the 2021-22 school year).
  • Elimination of writing tests in grades 4 and 7 (beginning with 2021-22 school year).
  • Prohibiting the administration of State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests to students on the first instructional day of the week.
  • Districts will transition to electronic assessments by 2022-23.
  • By Dec. 2020, TEA will create and share with lawmakers a plan to transition districts to electronic assessments.
  • No more than 75% of any STAAR test can be multiple choice by 2022-23.
  • TEA will establish an integrated formative assessment pilot program that districts can opt in to, which will be used to determine if these assessments improve instructional support and if they could potentially replace current assessments (with a pilot program to launch in the spring of 2021).
  • TEA will develop interim assessments for districts to use as actionable test data.
  • The educator assessment advisory committee, still awaiting commissioner appointment, will provide recommendations to TEA on assessment development.

Read more about HB 3906 from the TEA website here, and learn more about changes to testing that occurred due to the last legislative session in this Teach the Vote blog post from ATPE.

The merits of the STAAR test itself were also questioned heavily by parents, educators, and other stakeholders this past session. As a result, HB 3 mandated that a “readability study” be conducted to ensure that the test items and passages on the STAAR tests are at an appropriate level for the test-taker. The University of Texas at Austin Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk released part one of the study at the beginning of December. In a nutshell, the study (which was not peer-reviewed) was lauded by Commissioner Mike Morath as proving that the tests were on-level, but it left many questions unanswered. Specifically, the study was inconclusive about the grade-level readability of test items, it found that some STAAR test questions did not adequately assess the standards they were meant to address, and the authors noted that a majority of STAAR passages were within or below specified levels for narrativity (which has to do with the use of common vocabulary for a certain age/grade). We expect the second part of this study to come out by Feb. 1, 2020. Read more in this blog post here on Teach the Vote.

Teacher Retirement System (TRS)

After accounting changes adopted by the TRS board of directors in July of 2018, the TRS pension fund was in need of additional funding going into the 2019 legislative session. The 86th Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 12, by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which reduced the funding window for the TRS fund from 87 years to 29 years, and allowed for a supplemental payment or “13th check” to be issued to retirees in September 2019. SB 12 functions by slowly increasing the state’s contribution to TRS up to 8.25% by the year 2024. Additionally, the school district contribution will increase from 1.5% to 2%. Active school employees’ contributions to TRS will remain at the existing rate of 7.7% for the next two years and eventually increase to 8% in the 2021-22 school year and 8.25% the following year.

SB 12 also requires that if the state’s contribution to TRS should decline in the future, then school district and active employee contributions to the fund would be reduced by the same percentage. Additionally, the few school districts that pay into Social Security will no longer enjoy an exemption from paying into TRS.

Read more about TRS and the 86th Legislature in this ATPE blog post here on our blog.

What’s next?

We are not finished with compensation. While HB 3 made great strides in improving school finance, many aspects of the bill that could raise educator pay are left at a school district’s discretion. Compensation and benefits should be increased for educators across-the-board to bring the profession to an appropriate level of pay, ensuring that educators can live balanced, healthy lives.

Likewise, we are far from done with testing. However, this topic has been heavily dictated at the federal level since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, which is now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The state is limited in how much it can reduce testing and remain in compliance with federal accountability requirements. That being said, there is flexibility built into ESSA that would allow Texas to alter its assessment structure in ways that are more holistic, such as through the use of portfolio or performance assessments. Additionally, we must be vigilant in resisting the use of standardized tests for purposes of teacher evaluation and pay, as these tests have been shown to indicate more about poverty and other student factors uncontrollable by educators than how well students are learning in any given school year.

TRS is not a done deal either. Educators still face exorbitant healthcare costs and family needs. Prioritizing investments in healthcare, particularly with an emphasis on wellness and disease prevention, can pay great dividends in the form of a healthier school employee population. The state needs to increase its share of healthcare costs for both active and retired employees.

One of the most effective ways for educators to influence future legislative actions around these and other issues is to stay in touch with their own legislators. ATPE members can use our communication tools on Advocacy Central to quickly and easily send messages to their lawmakers at any time.

Your Vote is Your Voice

As the 2020 election cycle proceeds, it is important for voters to be aware of candidates’ positions on these issues, as well as incumbent legislators’ voting records on education bills like the ones mentioned above. The ATPE Governmental Relations team has invited all candidates for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year to participate in our education-specific candidate survey. On TeachtheVote.org, find candidate and legislator profiles to view their survey responses and voting records, where available. Learn more about which of the legislature’s 2019 votes were included on our site and why in this blog post.

As an additional resource, if you’d like to hear directly from candidates and maybe even ask a question, attend a free, public education-focused candidate forum being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation in several Texas cities this year. Find one near you here.

Voter registration for the Texas primary elections on Super Tuesday, which is March 3, 2020, ends on February 3. Find out if you are properly registered here. Educator Voting Day is slated for the first day of early voting, February 18, 2019.

Find more voting resources and take the Educators’ Oath to Vote on TexasEducatorsVote.com.