Category Archives: Testing

New School Year, New Laws: Assessment

In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog series penned by the ATPE lobby team, we discussed several bills passed during the recent 86th Legislative session that will impact curriculum and instruction. This week, the ATPE lobby team will address legislative changes adopted this year that pertain to how the state evaluates teaching and learning through assessment.

House Bill (HB) 1244 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin): Civics questions on U.S. History exams

HB 1244 alters the U.S. History end-of-course (EOC) exam by requiring that it include 10 questions randomly selected by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and pulled from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services civics test. This is the test that is used during the naturalization process. Does this mean there will be new curriculum standards (TEKS) for U.S. History? No, the bill specifies that TEA must ensure that the questions on the new exam will be aligned with the existing TEKS. Additionally, TEA will be required to issue an annual report that provides the questions, answers, and student performance regarding the 10 civics questions. Student performance data included in the report will be disaggregated by district and campus. HB 1244 applies beginning with students who enter the ninth grade during the 2019-20 school year.

HB 3906 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Multifaceted assessments

HB 3906 makes several test-related changes that are effective with the 2019-20 school year. First, with regard to mathematics assessments: the State Board of Education (SBOE) will determine the sections of the grades 3-8 mathematics assessments on which students can use technology aids. TEA can now prohibit the use of technology on certain parts of the Algebra I assessment. Additionally, students can now use a calculator application on a “computing device” (computer) in place of a graphing calculator.

With regard to how TEA designs assessments, the target time it should take a student to complete a distinct “part” of the test was shortened. For grades three and four, the test should be designed so that 85% of students can complete the part within 60 minutes (previously 120 minutes). For grades five through eight, 85% of students should be able to complete the part within 75 minutes (previously 180 minutes). Lastly, assessments and end-of-course exams can now be split into multiple parts administered over more than one day, and the tests may not be administered on the first instructional day of the week (typically Monday).

Also effective immediately, TEA is required to establish an integrated formative assessment pilot program. Districts can opt into the pilot program, which will be used to determine if formative assessments improve instructional support and if they could potentially replace current assessments. TEA will also begin creating a transition plan for the eventual electronic administration of assessments, develop electronic interim assessments for districts to use, and create both technical and educator assessment advisory committees to provide recommendations to the commissioner and TEA on assessment development.

Some provisions in HB 3906 will roll out in the coming years. The bill eliminates the STAAR writing tests given in grades 4 and 7, which will take effect on Sept. 1, 2021. Under federal law, states are required to teach and assess “reading or language arts.” Texas does assess reading and will continue to do so under HB 3906. Also, by the 2022-23 school year, the amount of multiple choice questions on assessments will be limited to 75% and assessments will be administered electronically pursuant to this bill.

Senate Bill (SB) 213 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo): Continuing the individual graduation committees

Individual graduation committees allow a student to graduate in the event that they have completed all curricular requirements but have not passed their EOCs, even with a re-test opportunity. Students complete remediation and a project or portfolio to demonstrate proficiency in the course. Ultimately, the committee considers a variety of factors before making a decision on whether the student can graduate. The committees first came into existence with the enactment of a 2015 bill also carried by Sen. Seliger, but the law permitting the use of the committees was scheduled to expire. This year’s SB 213 extends the use of individual graduation committees for another four years, until 2023. This bill took effect immediately upon its passage.

HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Test-related provisions in the school finance and reform bill

Earlier this year, a New York Times article and other media reports cited multiple studies indicating that State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests were written above grade level. Spurred by consternation over such media reports, Chairman Huberty included in his HB 3 language that calls for an “assessment instrument study.” This requires TEA to work with a public institution of higher education to determine if each STAAR test is written at the appropriate grade level. Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is required to submit a report on the findings of this study by Dec. 1 of this year.

The outcomes-based funding mechanism in HB 3 that relies on indicators of college, career, and military readiness will include performance on assessments such as the SAT, ACT, and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). HB 3 also includes district reimbursement for the administration of certain college prep assessments. Finally, HB 3 requires districts to create an early childhood literacy and mathematics proficiency plan, which would include annual, quantifiable goals for student performance in reading and math.


If you’d like to learn even more about how these and other legislative changes may affect you and your classroom, we encourage you to check out ATPE’s brand new publication, “An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature.” This digital guide compiled by ATPE’s legal staff aims to help educators become aware of new laws affecting instruction, compensation, student discipline, and much more. Access the comprehensive guide here. Next Monday, visit ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog once again for more highlights from this year’s legislative session when we’ll be featuring new bills that impact special education in Texas.

Changes to student testing are coming in light of legislation passed

The 86th Texas Legislature passed a number of measures that will have an impact on standardized testing of students in our public schools.

First, House Bill (HB) 3, the omnibus school finance and tax reform bill carried by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) contains some sections related to student testing. Most notably, the bill calls for an “assessment instrument study,” which requires the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to work with a public institution of higher education to determine if each State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test is written at the appropriate grade level. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is required to submit a report on the findings of this study by December 1 of this year.

HB 3 also included changes to testing that will affect districts, such as an outcomes-based funding mechanism that relies on indicators of college, career, and military readiness of each annual graduating class within a district. These indicators include student performance on assessments such as the SAT, ACT, and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. HB 3 also includes district reimbursement for college prep assessments and requirements for districts to create an early childhood literacy and mathematics proficiency plan, which would include annual, quantifiable goals for student performance in reading and math.

Fortunately, the final version of the school finance bill that passed does not include earlier language proposed by the Senate that would have tied a merit pay program for teachers more directly to the performance of their students. In fact, the final bill expressly prohibits the commissioner from requiring districts to use assessments to evaluate teacher performance in local teacher designation systems. ATPE and others urged lawmakers to remove such merit pay language from HB 3, fearing that it would lead to a statewide ranking of teachers based largely on data drawn from student scores on high-stakes tests that were never designed to be used as measures of educator effectiveness.

A major stand-alone testing bill, HB 3906, was also unanimously passed by the legislature and is awaiting a signature by Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill, similarly carried by Rep. Huberty, maintains the concept of a maximum time limit on STAAR tests in grades 3-8, but allows for the tests to be broken into smaller sections that would be administered during the school year rather than on a single day. Backers of the bill hope that multiple smaller tests will give the assessment more of a formative approach rather than forcing students to take a single, summative high-stakes test that has been cited as creating undue stress for students. Opponents, on the other hand, are concerned that breaking up the tests increases the overall number of testing days.

HB 3906 left the Senate with provisions that created a combined reading and writing “language arts” test. However, this concept was stripped from the final version of the bill, which simply eliminates the STAAR writing tests given in grades 4 and 7. This change will not take effect until September 1, 2021. The bill also prohibits giving STAAR tests to students on the first instructional day of the week, and requires a transition to electronic assessments after TEA conducts a study of how feasible this transition might be.

Under HB 3906, TEA is also required to develop non-multiple choice questions to round out STAAR tests due to the bill’s new 75% limit on multiple choice questions. Additionally, TEA will be required to 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. TEA is also required under HB 3906 to develop interim assessments for districts to use, presumably as test prep, and to create both a technical and educator assessment advisory committee that would provide recommendations to the commissioner and TEA on assessment development.

The legislature also passed a few smaller bills related to testing this session, such as Senate Bill (SB) 213 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), which extends the use of individual graduation committees for another four years, until 2023. This ATPE-supported bill has already been signed into law by Gov. Abbott and takes effect immediately.

Additionally, HB 1244 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and HB 1891 by Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Denton) have passed the legislature and await the Governor’s action. HB 1244 changes the U.S. History end-of course exam by requiring it to include 10 randomly selected questions from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services civics test. TEA is required to ensure that these questions are aligned to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and will provide annual reports with the answers to the questions and student performance. HB 1891 allows students who meet the required score on a high school equivalency exam, such as the General Education Diploma (GED), to be exempt from the Texas Success Initiative Assessment (TSIA). The required score will be set by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

ATPE will be watching the implementation of these bills as they roll out and begin to affect districts, teachers, and students. Stay tuned!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 24, 2019

We’re down to the final stretch of the 86th legislative session, and there’s been major breaking news about education bills in the last 24 hours. Here’s a look at this week’s headlines from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Legislators have reached a deal on priority legislation to address school finance, property tax relief, and teacher retirement funding. The deal was announced in a press conference yesterday afternoon by, Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R-Houston), and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), along with the House and Senate conferees on House Bill 3 (Senators Larry Taylor, Donna Campbell, Jane Nelson, Kirk Watson, and Royce West and Representatives Dan Huberty, Trent Ashby, Diego Bernal, Mary Gonzalez, and Ken King). They happily announced that negotiations had concluded and a compromise had been made on the school finance bill, House Bill 3; the property tax bill, Senate Bill 2; and Senate Bill 12 pertaining to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

Architects of the compromise provided reporters with an explanatory flyer highlighting its elements, which can be viewed here, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell reported on the announced deal on our Teach the Vote blog yesterday, and we’ve got updated information about the bill posted on our blog today.

As of this Friday afternoon, the final conference committee reports on these bills had not been released to the public, so many of the finer details about the agreement remain unknown. Meanwhile, we know that the school finance bill raises the basic allotment, aims to reduce recapture by 47% over the next two years, and caps the rate of local school district property tax increases at 2.5% starting in the year 2021. The plan is said to raise the state’s share of education funding from its current level of 38% up to 45%.

The final version of HB 3 also aims to increase pay to some educators by providing additional funding to districts through a $140 million merit pay program and various other allotments. Teacher pay was another of Gov. Abbott’s emergency issues so declared earlier this session, along with school finance reform. To the extent that the compromise bill raises funding for school districts generally, HB 3 requires school districts to spend a significant portion of those increases to improve compensation. The final version of HB 3 does not include any across-the-board pay raise requirements, however.

The agreement on SB 12 is expected to raise the state’s contribution to the TRS pension program in order to make it actuarially sound and provide current retirees with a 13th check. While the amount of the 13th check will vary, it is believed that the average amount of this payment will be around $2,000. The state is also increasing funding for TRS-ActiveCare, which will help active school employees with their healthcare costs.

Check out our lobbyists’ latest comprehensive blog post here for more detail on what is in the final versions of these high-profile bills. As we enter the final days of the session, don’t forget to follow the Teachthevote.org blog and our Twitter account for the most up-to-date information about the bills.


Legislation aimed at improving school safety and providing for mental health interventions for students is one step closer to passing. The issue was one of the emergency items Governor Abbott declared during his State of the State address in January.

After dying on a technicality earlier this week, a major mental health bill, Senate Bill 10 by Rep. John Zerwas (R- Richmond), was brought back to life when major portions of it were grafted onto another bill late on the night of the House’s deadline for passing bills on second reading. The carrier bill is Senate Bill 11, this session’s major school safety bill. SB 10 which would create a Texas Mental Health Consortium of mental health professionals from universities and health care providers around the state in order to identify children with mental illness and connect them to resources. SB 11 requires more training for school resource officers and encourages teaching students about how to prevent domestic violence, in part.

Yesterday afternoon both the House and Senate voted to send the newly expanded SB 11 to a conference committee.


Aside from House Bill 3, another bill pertaining to student testing remains pending and is generating a lot of attention among educators this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that HB 3906 by Rep Dan Huberty (R – Kingwood) as amended by the Senate dramatically impacts STAAR and remains pending at this late stage of the session.

As originally filed, HB 3906 primarily broke what are large, single day, tests into smaller tests that could be administered over multiple days, with those days falling over a number of weeks or even months. All of the mini-tests would have to fit within the same time frame as the current STAAR test they are meant to replace. The goal was to reduce student stress, allow for the test to be closer in time to the content being taught, and make the information gleaned from the test more useful to students and teachers during the school year in which the test is given.

The Senate put a number of additional provisions into the bill. The most controversial provision is a move from third through eighth grade reading tests, which do not include an integrated writing test, to third through eighth grade language arts tests, which do include embedded writing tests. There are currently stand-alone writing tests in fourth and seventh grades. The new format could certainly be viewed as an increase of four additional writing tests.

There have been conflicting reports on tests that are required by federal law. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does not require ANY state-level writing tests. In fact, the US Department of Education sent the Texas Education Agency (TEA) a letter informing the agency that Texas was out of compliance with federal law because it included two standalone writing tests as requirements.

In addition to the new writing tests proposed in HB 3906, the Senate also added the following provisions to the bill:

  • Third-grade STAAR results as disaggregated by Pre-K attendance to be added to the state’s early education report;
  • A prohibition against STAAR testing on a Monday;
  • A limit on multiple choice questions to no more than 75 percent;
  • State-developed benchmark tests;
  • A requirement to administer the vast majority of the STAAR test electronically by the 2022-23 school year, as well as a transition plan;
  • Creation of a new Assessment Advisory Committee; and
  • A study on STAAR testing.

Due in large part to what they see as in an increase in testing, parents and teachers alike have been calling on their legislators to oppose this bill. As a result, the House voted on a motion from Rep. Huberty to send HB 3906 to a conference committee today.

ATPE encourages those who are willing to continue advocating with regard to HB 3906 to consider calling out specific provisions, such as the additional writing assessments for deletion from the bill while recommending that more favorable components be passed into law. ATPE members are reminded that they can use Advocacy Central to easily contact their legislators by phone, email, or social media.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 8, 2019

Here’s your wrap-up of the week’s major education headlines coming out of Austin and Washington, DC, as reported by the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


House leaders announced the filing of HB 3 on Tuesday, March 5, 2019.

On Tuesday, leaders of the Texas House of Representatives held a press conference to announce the filing of House Bill (HB) 3.  The much-anticipated school finance reform bill was filed by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, with the support of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). Numerous state representatives from both parties signed on to co-author the bill immediately upon its filing.

HB 3 aims to provide $9 billion for a combination of school finance changes and property tax relief. HB 3 would lower the property tax bills of many homeowners by funding four cents’ worth of school property tax compression per $100 of property value. The bill injects additional funding into certain areas, including emphasizing pre-Kindergarten programs and help for students with dyslexia and other special needs, but HB 3 in its initial version also includes a number of provisions that are concerning to ATPE and other educator groups.

HB 3 does not include an across-the-board pay raise like Senate Bill (SB) 3, which has already passed the full Senate. HB 3 instead provides funding for a statewide merit pay program and calls for changes to the structure of the state’s 20-year minimum salary schedule (MSS). The changes outlined in the bill include an increase in the MSS steps for fully certified teachers (excluding those working under a probationary or emergency type of certificate). However, HB 3 also authorizes school districts to adopt their own performance-based salary schedule for teachers in lieu of following the state’s MSS.

HB 3 contemplates a statewide merit pay program through which the top one-third of teachers who meet certain other criteria may earn additional compensation upon receiving “recognized, exemplary, or master teacher designations.” The commissioner would establish most criteria for this program. Designations would only be available to a teacher of record who also holds a leadership role and would be based upon criteria that include student assessments, student perception surveys, and appraisal data. Designations earned by a teacher would be valid for a five-year period and noted on the teacher’s virtual certificate. HB 3 allows SBEC to revoke or suspend a teacher’s designation and also allows the commissioner to revoke, suspend, or modify a district’s own criteria for participating in the program. Interestingly, HB 3 states that the 22:1 class-size limit currently found in law would no longer apply to classes taught by any teacher who earns a designation under this program.

Read more about the filing of HB 3 in this blog post and watch for updates in the next few days as the House plans its first public hearing of HB 3 on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. As with other major school finance and teacher compensation bills that have been filed this session, ATPE views HB 3 as merely a starting point for ongoing discussions in the House. We look forward to working with Chairman Huberty and House leaders on changes to this bill as it moves forward, and ATPE hopes to help the House and Senate reach an ultimate compromise on school funding improvements that will benefit students and educators across the state.


On Monday, the full Senate passed SB 3 to provide a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers. During the floor debate on Monday, SB 3 author Sen. Jane Nelson amended the bill to include librarians. The bill was passed unanimously. Read more about SB 3 here.

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, March 5, 2019, to discuss a major school safety bill and several bills dealing with school marshals. The hearing follows Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration of school safety as an emergency issue for this legislative session. Among the bills heard was Senate Bill (SB) 11 filed earlier this week by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). SB 11 includes a number of enforcement provisions addressing school safety plans. The bill also includes a loan repayment assistance program for school counselors in high-needs areas. SB 11 requires schools to develop multihazard emergency operations plans and assemble threat assessment teams. ATPE supported the bill during the committee hearing. Read more in this blog post.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifies in the House Public Education Committee on March 5, 2019.

On Tuesday, March 6, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard six bills related to STAAR testing. Tuesday’s hearing included hours of invited testimony from teachers, district leaders, parents, and TEA staff. The committee also heard several other bills including HB 851 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) that would extend the expiration date for the law providing for Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs). Read more about the hearing in this blog post.

 


A new federal bill to provide tax relief for educators is gaining traction and bipartisan support. H.R. 878, the Educators Expense Deduction Modernization Act, would allow teachers to deduct up to $500 from their federal taxes (instead of $250 under current law) for any classroom supplies that they purchase. Four members of the Texas congressional delegation have already signed on as cosponsors of the ATPE-supported legislation. Read more in this blog post.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: Voters in Texas House District 145 have elected a new state representative to fill the seat vacated by former representative and now Senator Carol Alvarado. Democrat Christina Morales, a Houston entrepreneur, beat out challenger and former City Councilwoman Melissa Noriega,securing 59% of the vote in a special election runoff held Tuesday night. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Morales and looks forward to working with her for the remainder of this session.

Voting is currently underway for San Antonians living in House District 145. The race to fill the seat vacated by by former state representative and current Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez is down to two opponents: former City Councilman Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio) and businessman Fred Rangel (R-San Antonio). Today is the last day of early voting. The special election runoff for this seat will take place next Tuesday, March 12.

 


 

House Public Education Committee hears bills and testimony on assessment

On Tuesday, March 6, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard six bills related to testing and the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR).

The committee began by hearing seven panels of invited testimony from superintendents and other district leaders, teachers, Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff, and parents. Their comments generally centered around the reliability of STAAR testing in light of recent articles reporting that reading tests are written at a grade level above that of the students being tested (Texas Monthly, The New York Times, Washington Post, Houston Chronicle). Many issues arose during the rich discussion, including the misalignment between the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards and how the TEKS are tested; the misalignment of expectations between TEA and school districts; the negative impact of testing on students; and the flawed public narrative that inaccurate tests create.

The first panel was composed of superintendents from Alief ISD, Northside ISD, San Marcos ISD, and Granger ISD. The general sentiment among the panelists was that the state should have assessments with appropriately rigorous standards, but make sure they are valid, fair, meaningful, and timely. Additionally, witnesses testified that the tests should undergo rigorous review and field-testing. The danger lies in misalignment between the expectations of test and the expectations of standards, as well as misalignment with other assessments and what teachers know about tests. This results in the STAAR tests creating an inaccurate narrative and in students giving up on their passions.

The second panel included Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who stated that the STAAR tests were meant to predict post-secondary outcomes. Morath emphasized that National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) outcomes have remained flat or declined over the past decade, and he defended the reliability of the STAAR tests. He did admit that the Texas student population has increased significantly over time and grown progressively poorer. Appearing with Morath were three reading experts, one of whom was from the organization that developed lexile scores, Meta-Metrics. Dr. Sanford-Moore of Meta-Metrics explained that lexiles are based on a computer algorithm and measure language structure based on the number of ideas in a sentence and the vocabulary used.

Reps. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park), and Mary Gonzalez (D- Clint) all made compelling points about the tests. VanDeaver stated, “These are children and not machines. What happens when we reach that level that goes beyond challenging and becomes frustrating and the child shuts down?” Similarly, Meyer shared a story of his fourth-grade daughter, who cried on the way to school the day of the STAAR test and came home defeated. Meyer said, “You call it challenge, I call it frustration.” Gonzalez reiterated her previous comment that it is imperative for the public purpose of the tests to be clear.

This led to a flurry of discussion, bouncing from issue to issue within the educational system, including the A-F accountability grading system; expectations for teachers and district leadership to understand the STAAR test; the use of tests for grade promotion and teacher evaluations; teacher and student stress; curriculum; professional development; and educator preparation. Overall, the range of topics that arose seemed to point to a disconnect between the agency’s expectation of teachers, districts, and students, and the practices and understandings of school districts.

At the four-hour mark of the hearing, the testimony of the third through seventh panels proceeded much more quickly. Another panel of superintendents from Comal ISD, Wylie ISD, and Frisco ISD testified that they used multiple interim assessments and instructional quality improvements to perform well on the STAAR. Additionally, Dr. Mike Waldrip of Frisco ISD said that the timing of the STAAR test at the end of the year wasn’t particularly useful for making preparations for the next year. A fourth panel composed of district leaders in literacy and learning expressed a key takeaway: that there is a disconnect between the reading level of instruction using the TEKS versus the reading level of assessment. The fifth panel, composed of teachers and an interventionist, was deemed the best panel of the day by Rep. Dr. Alma Allen (D-Houston), a long-time member of the committee who is also an educator. Notably affecting the committee members, one of the panelists announced that the time elapsed in the hearing was about the same amount of time students sit for a STAAR test. This panel also spoke to the needs of students and teachers in having the appropriate tools to provide relevant and effective instruction so that students can succeed on state tests. The sixth and seventh panels, which included other district leaders, parents, and stakeholders echoed much of the sentiments in of the previous panels, such as the negative impact of testing on students.

After nearly six hours of testimony from the invited panelists, who provided invaluable insights on the reliability, validity, and usefulness of testing to the state’s educational system, the committee turned its attention to hearing the bills posted on the agenda.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifies in the House Public Education Committee, March 5, 2019.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified neutrally on House Bill (HB) 671 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian). HB 671 would eliminate end-of-course (EOC) examinations and replace them with a school district’s choice of  either the TSI or a nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment such as ACT or SAT, to be administered in grade 11. Under the bill, the commissioner would contract with a vendor to administer the assessment. HB 671 also mandates that each district require students to attend a preparation course to succeed on the test and defines college readiness. Chevalier expressed that while ATPE supports the reduction in mandated state tests, we want to ensure that any test used to replace the STAAR is both appropriate as an input into the state accountability system and provides the appropriate accommodations for students receiving special education services, students under a 504 plan, and English language learners.

ATPE registered positions in support of the following bills:

  • HB 525 (Tinderholt, R-Arlington): Would limit the required assessments to just mathematics, reading, and science (eliminating writing, social studies, English II, and US History tests)
  • HB 851 (Huberty, R- Kingwood): Would eliminate the September 1, 2019 expiration date of the law authorizing Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs)
  • HB 1480 (VanDeaver, R- New Boston): Would create an accelerated learning committee (ALC) for students who do not perform satisfactorily on third, fifth, or eighth grade reading or math assessments. Also would allow accelerated instruction to be provided to the student in the following year. The ALC would develop an educational plan for the student, provide assistance to student, and perform additional duties if the student doesn’t meet the standard for a second time after accelerated instruction. HB 1480 would also eliminate the requirement that assessments are used for promotion. The bill would eliminate social studies and US History assessments and require the commissioner to gather input from districts on an assessment schedule that minimizes disruption and maximizes instruction time.

Other bills heard in committee were:

  • HB 843 (Springer, R-Gainesville): Would allow for the inclusion of optional post-secondary readiness assessments in Algebra II and English III in the accountability system under the student achievement domain
  • HB 1244  (Ashby, R- Lufkin): Would eliminate the US History EOC and create an electronic civics test as a requirement for graduation, which would contain all questions on the U.S. Citizenship test in a multiple-choice format.

The House Public Education Committee plans to meet again next week. On Tuesday, March 12, the committee will to hear Chairman Huberty’s comprehensive school finance reform bill, HB 3, filed earlier this week. Chairman Huberty also said he expects HB 3 to reach the House floor by the first week of April. Over half the members of the Texas House have already signed on as co-authors for HB 3. The committee also expects to meet next Wednesday to hear other bills. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 24, 2018

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


Last week, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick sent a letter to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) insisting that the body not raise insurance premiums on retired educators. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter breaks down why many feel the letter is nothing more than a political stunt in this blog post.


Donna Bahorich

Texas State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich will be participating in a listening session for the Federal Commission on School Safety on Tuesday, August 28, 2018, in Montgomery, Alabama. This listening session is the fourth in a series of panels that have been held across the nation with the goal of devising strategies to improve school safety. Tuesday’s afternoon event will be live-streamed. Find more information and read the press release in its entirety here.


U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reported to be considering allowing the use of federal funds from Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants to arm educators. The grants are intended to improve academic achievement; however, nothing expressly forbids the funds from being used to purchase firearms. In the wake of recent school shootings the Texas Education Agency (TEA) received a number of inquiries asking whether the funds could be used for such measures. Wile the agency never received an official response from the Department of Education, the proposal may very well become legitimized. You can learn more in this article from the Texas Tribune.


This week the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced a proposed rule change filed by Commissioner Mike Morath regarding students who’ve taken high school end-of-course (EOC) assessments in middle school. Students in grades 3 through 8 who are enrolled in a course that awards high school credit may currently take STAAR EOC assessments prior to entering high school. This includes Algebra I, English I, and English II. However, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires all students to take a math and reading or language arts test in high school.

In order to satisfy this federal requirement, the new rule will require schools to use the SAT or ACT to assess high school students who completed their math or English EOC assessments before their freshman year. This change is expected to cost districts about $50 for each student tested in this way, which number an estimated 109,000 statewide. The total statewide impact is therefore estimated at $5.45 million. The new rule appears in today’s Texas Register and you can read it in its entirety here.

 


 

Texas school districts receive first A-F letter grades

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the new A-F letter grade ratings for Texas school districts today. Despite concerns from educators and other advocates, the legislature, with strong backing from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has worked to adopt and finalize the new rating system over the past three legislative sessions.

ATPE was among the education groups to express strong concerns about moving to an A-F rating system, especially considering the basis of any rating depends on the underlying accountability system that is too heavily reliant on state standardized tests. In a press release issued by ATPE, we reiterated our concerns and called for additional study of the new system’s impact.

“Educators across Texas have opposed assigning overly simplistic letter grades that may unfairly label schools and their staff and students as failures,” said Jennifer Mitchell, ATPE Governmental Relations Director. “Many educators worry that A-F will stigmatize schools with accountability grades based disproportionately upon data from high-stakes standardized tests.”

Today’s release of A-F ratings is specific to Texas school districts (campuses are not scheduled to receive A-F ratings until next school year), but campus accountability ratings according to the previous system were also released. While ATPE is happy to see an historic reduction in the number of Texas campuses requiring improvement, we stress that we should be considering more than a letter grade when praising their success.

“ATPE recognizes that under any accountability system so heavily determined by test scores, there will be winners and losers,” said Mitchell. “It is important not to overestimate the significance of poor grades assigned to some school districts, but it is equally vital to look behind the letter grades of those schools that have shown improvement. Additional study, much like research commissioned by ATPE in the past to examine the factors influencing successful school turnaround, is warranted with the roll-out of this new system.”

Mitchell referred to a teacher quality study commissioned by ATPE in 2008, in which researchers from the University of Texas explored strategies implemented at schools that had shown significant improvement in their students’ test scores. The researchers interviewed teachers and school leaders at those schools and found that they were prioritizing such practices as recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, empowering teachers to make instructional decisions, and providing high-quality professional development and financial resources.

TEA released its own series of press releases on the topic of school accountability ratings, covering a high-level breakdown of the A-F district ratings and the campus accountability ratings. Commissioner Mike Morath also praised the 153 school districts that received an A rating today.

Summer Activism: How can I continue to fight for our classrooms?

Congratulations, you made it to summer!

The students are gone, but every teacher knows the work never really stops, even when the temperatures soar. As it turns out, this summer is already shaping up to be a pretty active one when it comes to shaping public education policies that could make a big impact on classrooms next fall.

In fact, keeping on top of what’s happening this summer is critical to ensuring lawmakers start off on the right foot when they return to Austin in January to start making laws that affect your students, classrooms and profession. To that end, many ATPE members have asked what educators can do to stay on top of these important conversations this summer.

The good news is there’s plenty to do, and much of it can be done with minimal disruption to your summer schedule! Here’s a list of ways to keep engaged:

Be Social

Keeping up on your social media feeds is the best way to stay up to date on what conversations are going down where. Your ATPE governmental relations staff is busy going to important meetings where the future of public education is being discussed, and we’re posting what’s being talked about on Twitter. Good handles to follow are @OfficialATPE, @TeachTheVote, @ATPE_JenniferC, @ATPE_MontyE, @ATPE_KateK and yours truly, @MarkWigginsTX. Also check for updates on ATPE’s Facebook page. The more follows, likes and shares we get, the more clout we’ll have when we start mobilizing members during the legislative session.

Speak Up

There are dozens of meetings scheduled this summer where members of the public are allowed to testify about public education issues, letting lawmakers know where they stand. Next month, a special Senate committee is meeting to talk about school safety, and the House Public Education Committee is holding hearings on school safety and mental health next week. The Texas Commission on Public School Finance is scheduled to meet July 10 to discuss ways to fix the school finance system. The State Board of Education (SBOE) just wrapped up their June meeting, but they’ll be back in September. If you want to know more about how to testify, just call or e-mail your ATPE governmental relations department; but you don’t have to travel to Austin to be heard. Reaching out to the people elected to represent you via letters, email, and phone calls can be just as effective. You can often them just down the street at their local district offices during this time year as well, if you want to talk to them face to face without ever leaving home.

Volunteer

The most important way to make sure we secure adequate funding, resources and respect for the teaching profession is by electing pro-public education candidates to office. You can find out who supports public education by checking out our Candidates page. The November 6 election is the biggest and last opportunity between now and the next legislative session to do that. Even though July and August are typically slow months for political campaigns, those campaigns are always looking for people to block walk, make phone calls and put up signs. Volunteering during the dog days is also a great way to get to know candidates and staff on a personal level, since they’re usually very grateful for the help!

Donate

Unfortunately, money still matters in the world of politics. Campaigns rely on it and so do political action committees (PACs). People are grateful for donations any time, and summer is no exception. For most educators, pooling your money with other donors through a PAC offers you an opportunity to get the best bang for the buck. For example, during the primaries, 72 percent of the candidates who received a donation form the ATPE-PAC went on to win their election. In the primary runoffs that number jumped to 80 percent.

Preach the Word

Summer is a time for barbecues, grilling out and social gatherings. We’ve all been general brought up to avoid talking politics, but the future of our schools is something that should rise above partisanship. Are your friends also stressed about paying too much in property taxes? Do they know that fixing the school finance system by ensuring the state pays its fair share of the burden would go a long way in fixing that? What about testing — are other parents just as fed up with the overemphasis on STAAR? Let them know the hard work you and ATPE are doing to advocate for solutions to these problems and let them know about Teach the Vote! We created the site for everyone who cares about the future of public education because we need everyone’s help to make sure we get  the right people in office to fix these and many other issues, such as teacher health care and compensation.

We’re gearing up for a scorcher, but educators can’t afford to spend too much time in the shade. Every little bit helps us to avoid getting burned next session!

Morath suggests developing school safety building standards in SBOE update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School finance commission talks about teacher supports

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

School finance commission meeting June 5, 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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