Tag Archives: accountability

SBOE Update: Board seeks more authority over charter expansion, ATPE advances Master Teacher rule fix

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is meeting this week for the last time this calendar year. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has been attending the virtual meetings and reporting on them here on our ATPE advocacy blog. Here are the latest developments:

Wednesday highlights:

On Wednesday, November 18, the board began its day with a presentation by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Read more about the discussion between the board members and commissioner in this blog post from yesterday. Also on Wednesday, the board debated its legislative recommendations for 2021, and set the Permanent School Fund (PSF) distribution rate for the next two-year state budget.

The board held a preliminary vote to set a distribution rate of 4.18% from the PSF for the 2022-23 budget biennium, directing $1.17 billion per fiscal year and $3.34 billion for the biennium to fund public schools. Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence), who chairs the board’s Committee on School Finance/PSF, noted that the Legislature will ask the board to contribute as much as possible due to the financial strain on the state caused by the recession. In response to questions about why the board can’t contribute more than it does, Maynard explained that the nature of endowments is that they are limited in how much they can distribute while protecting the corpus and maintaining growth of the fund.

TEA staff updated the board on the results of the SBOE’s legislative recommendations for the previous session in 2019. Among the items included in the board’s recommendations last session were changes to PSF governance to address conflicts between the SBOE and the School Land Board (SLB), which manages the fund’s real estate assets and is housed within the General Land Office (GLO). The 86th Texas Legislature passed legislation in 2019 designed to mitigate those conflicts and requiring the two boards to meet together at least once a year.

SBOE Chair Keven Ellis presides over the November meeting.

The board then considered its legislative recommendations for the upcoming 2021 legislative session, beginning with readopting recommendations that had not been addressed in 2019. The recommendations comprise legislation the board would like to support.

The board approved a legislative recommendation introduced by Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) to expand the SBOE’s authority to approve or reject charter school expansion amendments. The board currently has veto authority over the approval of new charter chains, but no authority over the expansion to additional campuses once a charter chain is approved. The commissioner is the sole authority who decides whether charter chains can open additional campuses; the current commissioner has allowed charter chains, including those with failing accountability ratings, to expand exponentially. The SBOE did not approve a recommendation, however, calling for a moratorium on new charter chains.

Perez also proposed a recommendation on reducing the number of high-stakes tests to only those that are required under federal law, as well as removing A-F grades used in the state’s accountability system for schools. ATPE has advocated for removing harmful labels from the accountability system that oversimplify educational factors and only serve to stigmatize schools and communities. Unfortunately, the SBOE did not adopt this recommendation today.

The board also did not approve a number of recommendations Perez proposed that explicitly expressed support for protecting the health and safety of educators and students by granting local districts the flexibility to make determinations about educational delivery, as well as requiring that local educators and parents have meaningful input into reopening decisions.

Members then resumed discussion on curriculum standards (TEKS) up for final adoption at this month’s meeting. The board will vote on the revised TEKS for health, physical education, and science during their Friday meeting.

Thursday highlights:

The board divided into its three standing committees Thursday morning, with the School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/PSF Committees holding separate hearings.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before the SBOE Committee on School Initiatives.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified before the Committee on School Initiatives Thursday morning in support of a new administrative rule that will allow Legacy Master Teachers to retain their certificates without expiration. ATPE’s Governmental Relations team approached Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff in the summer of 2019 with concerns raised by Legacy Master Teachers whose certificates were scheduled to expire as a result of language in House Bill (HB) 3. ATPE worked with agency staff and other stakeholders to develop a solution that would allow Legacy Master Teachers, including Legacy Master Reading Teachers, to continue teaching in their current positions. The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) approved the final rule in October of 2020.

By law, all rules passed by SBEC must be reviewed by SBOE, which holds veto authority that is rarely executed. Wiggins thanked TEA staff, SBEC members, and House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) for their work to ensure that the expertise of Legacy Master Teachers remains in the classroom. After Wiggins’s testimony, the committee advanced the rule to the full board with a favorable recommendation. The rule will go into effect pending a favorable review by the full SBOE on Friday.

ATPE commends legislators for joining the push for STAAR waivers

Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), joined by 67 of his Texas House colleagues, sent a letter to the Texas commissioner of education today calling for the cancellation of this school year’s STAAR tests.

Today’s letter from the bipartisan group of state representatives echoes a similar letter ATPE sent to Gov. Greg Abbott last week and shared with legislative leaders and the commissioner in recent days. Both letters reference the “COVID slide” and the need for educators and policymakers to focus their efforts this year on remediation of students, along with prioritizing the health and safety of students and staff.

“At most, any administration of the STAAR exam during the 2020-2021 school year should only serve as a diagnostic instrument to see where our students stand academically as opposed to an assessment instrument to determine district and campus sanctions under the current A-F accountability system,” wrote Rep. Bernal in the November 18 correspondence to Commissioner Mike Morath.

Texas laws and regulations link numerous high-stakes decisions to data derived from STAAR testing, including school accountability ratings, student promotion, and the evaluations and compensation of educators. Lawmakers who signed the letter to Morath expressed appreciation for the state’s decision to waive STAAR-related requirements for the Student Success Initiative this year, which ATPE also noted in our letter as a positive step. However, data from STAAR tests administered this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic will be unreliable and unfair measures to apply to a host of other decisions, as ATPE has repeatedly warned state officials.

The commissioner and governor have not yet signaled any intent to waive the testing requirements this year as they did in the spring. Morath previously has been quoted as saying, “Teaching without some form of testing is just talking.” As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, multiple members of the State Board of Education questioned Morath about STAAR testing during a meeting this morning. “Why do we even need the STAAR test this year?!” tweeted member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) during the SBOE meeting.

ATPE is hopeful that the growing pressure to waive STAAR testing requirements this year, including pleas from elected officials on both sides of the political aisle, will persuade Governor Abbott and Commissioner Morath to provide the needed relief and do their part to request federal waivers of the testing and accountability mandates, as well. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for any new developments.

SBOE presses commissioner over STAAR

Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before the November 18, 2020 meeting of the SBOE.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath addressed the State Board of Education (SBOE) Wednesday morning at the board’s November meeting. The commissioner updates the board at each meeting on various Texas Education Agency (TEA) initiatives. Many SBOE members at Wednesday’s meeting voiced consternation over the planned administration of the STAAR this school year, as well as other concerns that echo what ATPE has been asking of Morath and other state officials.

Morath began his presentation this morning with a brief overview of the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR), which is a formal document each agency submits to the incoming legislature outlining its recommendations for the next two-year budget. The agency’s LAR includes $26.2 billion for the Foundation School Program (FSP), which directly funds public schools, as well as $164.6 million for the agency’s administration. Spending on Titles I-VI totals $2.2 billion, along with $2.5 billion for nutrition and $1.1 billion for special education.

According to Morath, the agency has already executed a request from state leaders for all agencies to cut their spending by 5% in response to the economic recession. This cut is already included in the agency’s LAR. The commissioner said the LAR includes one “exceptional item” requesting $10 million to attract and train effective and diverse educators and $10 million for targeted interventions and campus supports. Separate from state funding, Morath said the state had received roughly $2 billion in CARES Act funding, including $908 million in net new funding.

The commissioner also touted Schoology, which is learning management software (LMS) the state has purchased and made available to approximately 400 local education agencies (LEAs). The state has spent $64 million on Texas Home Learning, which is a virtual learning platform. Morath said 256 LEAs have registered to engage with THL content since June. Board Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) noted this is an engagement rate of only 24% of LEAs and suggested that CARES Act funding would be better utilized for more equitable, sustainable, and long-term supports that benefit all schools.

SBOE Member Barbara Cargill

Outgoing Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) pointed out that many teachers are thinking about leaving the profession because of the overwhelming increase in workload resulting from the combination of virtual and in-person classroom responsibilities. “What encouragement can we give them?” asked Cargill. Morath responded that what teachers need most is time. The commissioner stated the vast majority of schools are using a concurrent model, which makes teachers conduct both virtual and in-person instruction and requires twice the prep work. The commissioner noted that the agency has shared alternative staffing models with districts that could reduce the workload demands on individual teachers. Increased workload demands have been cited frequently by educators, including in a new comprehensive ATPE survey report released today.

Several members asked the commissioner about waivers or adjustments to STAAR administration for the 2020-21 school year. Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) directly asked the commissioner to scrap this year’s STAAR test. Morath indicated that the agency’s plan is to apply for waivers for certain participation requirements in spring and that TEA is considering adjustments to the A-F accountability system. Yet Morath seemed to imply that there are no plans to cancel the test, despite the growing backlash against the high-stakes test.

Member Perez-Diaz pointed out that there is no reliable data this year with which to evaluate student progress. Member Pam Little (R-Fairview) asked whether schools could be allowed to use the measure of academic progress (MAP) instead of STAAR for accountability purposes. The commissioner suggested that approach is complicated by lack of consistent protocols or benchmarks, but that it was under consideration.

Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) asked whether TEA was considering easing up on teacher evaluation requirements, pointing out the difficulty of evaluating remote learning under the current system. Echoing a response to ATPE when our association similarly asked for a moratorium on appraisal requirements, Morath told Perez today schools already have flexibility on evaluations, but he said the agency will explore whether additional flexibility is needed.

Members also pressed the commissioner over his claim that schools are “remarkably safe environments” with regard to COVID-19. Perez-Diaz asked whether contact tracing was being conducted on campuses that could back up the claims that there isn’t much spread in schools. The commissioner said the agency hasn’t found evidence of underreporting by districts, despite many reports to the contrary. The commissioner conceded that identifying the source of transmission has proven to be difficult due to the level of community spread, but he pointed to data about the spread of COVID-19 in schools in other countries to justify his claim.

Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) pointed out that the Rio Grande Valley is home to 4.7% of the state’s population, yet has experienced 18% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths. Cortez shared reports that some 200 employees have tested positive for the virus in Hidalgo County schools and emphasized the importance of giving schools the flexibility to continue remote-only instruction while infections are spiking. Morath responded by suggesting that schools have existing flexibility.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 13, 2020

From COVID-19 to Social Security and everything in between, check out this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations team on this Friday the 13th:


ATPE continues to lobby for a waiver of testing and accountability requirements this year because of the disruption caused by COVID-19. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes wrote to Governor Greg Abbott this week to again urge relief from state testing laws. COVID-19 has caused mounting stress for educators and students, which is only amplified by standardized testing and the likely negative implications of unreliable testing data. “Despite the increasing backlash against testing, state officials thus far have offered the education community little hope for relief,” wrote Holmes, urging the governor to grant waivers and seek flexibility from federal officials. Read ATPE’s letter here plus additional detail in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

In an interview with NBC Local 23, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter argued that teachers should be able to focus on serving their students rather than testing, especially with heightened academic, social, and emotional needs stemming from the pandemic. Exter also stressed that teachers are best-equipped to assess their own students in a much more accurate and effective manner.


FEDERAL UPDATE: ATPE is urging educators to contact their members of Congress about a new retirement bill filed recently in Washington by U.S. Congressmen Richard Neal (D – Mass.) and Kevin Brady (R – TX). The association is asking the bill’s authors to amend their high-profile bill with language to repeal and replace the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which reduces many public employees’ Social Security benefits. Both Brady and Neal have proposed a WEP fix in their previously filed bills, and ATPE is requesting the WEP language to be added onto their new legislation, the Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2020, in order to give educators the relief they deserve.

ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send a quick message to the Texas congressional delegation about this legislation and the need for WEP relief.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard now shows that for the week ending November 1, the number of positive cases increased 4.5% among students and 5.4% among staff who participate in on-campus activities and instruction. More notably, however, the number of positive cases for the most recent week of data (ending November 8) appears to have risen a staggering 25.8% among students and 14.3% among staff. These numbers are alarming as data reported for the most recent week are usually incomplete and likely to increase with the next week’s update. It is unclear whether these trends are reflective of upward infection trends statewide or an increase in students participating in on-campus instruction as the school year progresses.

We reported here on Teach the Vote last week that ATPE sent a letter to Commissioner of Education Mike Morath sharing educators’ complaints about how the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has handled local issues arising from the pandemic. To date ATPE has not received any response to that letter. Last week we also reported on TEA’s clarification of its guidance allowing districts to require certain students to attend school in person. The topic has garnered much media attention. On Friday, November 6, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins spoke with CBS Austin and stressed that the state should focus on investing in education and prioritizing relief from testing.

Check out ATPE’s frequently updated COVID-19 FAQs and Resources for answers to numerous questions asked by educators. Also, don’t forget to visit Advocacy Central (for ATPE members only) to share your coronavirus concerns with legislators and other state and federal officials.


This week, The Texas Tribune’s education reporter Aliyya Swaby moderated a panel discussion about rural education in Texas. Swaby sat down with Donna Hale, superintendent of Miami Independent School District, Georgina C. Pérez, member of the Texas State Board of Education, and state Rep. Gary VanDeaver to talk about broadband access, teacher retention, and maintaining education funding, among other topics. Learn more and view archived video of the panel presentation here.


ELECTION UPDATE: With the election 10 days in the past, we have unofficial final results in Texas and just a couple races that may head to recounts, according to the Texas Tribune. This week on Teach the Vote, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on Texas’ record-breaking turnout, the presumptive next Texas House Speaker, and other news. Read Mark’s Texas election roundup here, and see ATPE’s list of the full election results for Texas legislative and State Board of Education races here. Thank you to all who voted!



The Senate Education Committee met today to hear remote testimony from invited witnesses only on virtual schools, special education, COVID-19, and the implementation of two of the major education bills passed last session. Read more about the hearing, believed to be the last one the committee will hold before the 2021 legislative session begins in January, in this blog post today from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Related: Monday marked the beginning of the pre-filing period for bills to be considered by the Legislature next session. As of today, 745 bills have already been pre-filed. Search, read, and follow bills that have been filed at Texas Legislature Online.

ATPE again urges state officials to waive student testing requirements during COVID-19

ATPE sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott November 11 seeking relief for Texas public schools as they face rigid testing and accountability requirements while still dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter from ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes reiterates requests ATPE made to state officials in July, specifically including a waiver of requirements for STAAR and TELPAS testing and related accountability laws.

Shannon Holmes

“A growing chorus of educators, parents, and elected officials have opposed standardized testing this year,” writes Holmes, citing concerns that the state-mandated tests create unnecessary added stress, take time away from instruction, and are unlikely to yield reliable data. “Despite the increasing backlash against testing, state officials thus far have offered the education community little hope for relief.”

The letter from ATPE notes the increase in educators’ workloads this year and the mental health effects of the pandemic on students. With Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath expressing his intent that testing continue this year in spite of the pandemic and that all students be required to take the tests in person, ATPE is concerned that test administration alone will contribute to health and safety risks already disrupting the educational environment. In addition, the letter highlights the numerous high-stakes decisions that are tied to standardized testing data, which may not be reliable under the circumstances surrounding this difficult school year.

Relief from standardized testing mandates is one of the needs most frequently expressed by ATPE members and was the subject of a resolution adopted by the ATPE House of Delegates in July. The association is also lobbying for a waiver of federal testing and accountability requirements similar to the flexibility granted during the 2019-20 school year.

Read the full letter from ATPE to Gov. Abbott here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 16, 2020

Here are this week’s education news highlights, brought to you by ATPE Governmental Relations:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: In conjunction with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), Governor Greg Abbott announced this week that eight school systems would be included in a COVID-19 rapid testing pilot. Participating schools will receive rapid antigen tests that can produce results in 15 minutes. The tests will be administered to students, teachers, and staff who choose to participate. The state hopes eventually to expand rapid testing in schools to mitigate the spread of the virus as more students return for in-person learning. Read more about the program in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.

This week’s updates to the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard show that, compared to last week’s reported numbers, positive cases rose by 2.6% among students and 6.8% among staff. As districts are notified of positive test results, they may update their numbers, and the dashboard’s values for the prior week (ending Oct. 4) have increased beyond what was previously reported. The updated data show last week’s positive cases rose by 11.8% among students and 15.5% among staff. (The increases reported last week were significantly less than this, at 2.3% among students and 7.8% among staff.) As a reminder, positive test results are only included for students and staff who participate in on-campus instruction and activities.

ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page includes newly updated information about educators returning to school. Here are additional ATPE resources:

  • Get answers to legal questions about COVID-19 and earn CPE by watching ATPE’s webcasts on our professional learning portal.
  • Use our Parent-Teacher Toolkit, featuring our latest video on helping kids thrive in today’s world.
  • See the pandemic and ATPE’s response evolve through our interactive timeline.
  • ATPE members can send messages to their government officials through Advocacy Central.

ELECTION UPDATE: The first week of early voting is almost over, and record numbers of Texans have already cast their votes. Early voting lasts until Oct. 30! If you haven’t voted yet, check out ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier’s post on her early voting experience, which includes tips for a smooth trip to the polls.

ATPE Exec. Dir. Shannon Holmes sports his “I voted early” sticker

Court decisions continue to impact ballot drop off locations and the use of drive-thru and curbside voting. The Senate District 30 special election runoff between Shelley Luther and Rep. Drew Springer has been set for Dec. 19. For more election-related news, see this week’s election roundup post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

You may have noticed on ATPE’s Twitter and Facebook that ATPE members and staff are posting videos on why they vote. Share your own video on social media using #WhyIVoteTXEd and tag @OfficialATPE and @Teach the Vote! Find additional general election voting dates and reminders here, and don’t forget to check out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote.


As mentioned in this article by the Dallas Morning News, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter was invited to testify on teacher workforce issues during a Senate Education Committee interim hearing this week. Exter advocated for streamlined professional development and reduced paperwork burdens on districts and educators. The committee also heard invited testimony from adult education providers and education preparation programs. Read more about the hearing in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins and see ATPE’s written testimony here.


The 2020 Census count ended this week after an October 13 Supreme Court order shortened the deadline from October 31 to October 15. The deadline has fluctuated multiple times as the Trump administration played tug-of-war with the courts. Some argue the administration wanted to cut the deadline to ensure time to manipulate the census data to exclude unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. Read more about the development in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


TEA sent out a notice this week to Education Service Centers and district testing coordinators describing a new method for calculating the STAAR progress measure for the 2020-2021 school year. The modified measure would reach back in to 2018-19 student testing data, skipping over 2019-20 since no tests were given due to the pandemic. Questions remain as to whether the STAAR testing is appropriate at this time and how a modified progress measure might be used in the accountability system for 2020-21. Read more in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

TEA announces modified STAAR progress measure

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) sent a notification to Education Service Centers and school district testing coordinators this week that outlines how the agency intends to approach the STAAR progress measure for the 2020-21 school year.

Typically, the STAAR progress measure is based on the change in a student’s scores between the current year and the prior year. Because the STAAR tests were cancelled in Spring and Summer 2020 due to COVID-19, calculations using results for the 2019-20 school year are not feasible.

As a workaround, TEA will temporarily modify the calculation of the progress measure to be based off student scores from the 2018-19 and 2020-21 school years. Due to this change, students currently in 4th grade will be excluded, as they were in an untested grade (2nd grade) in 2018-19.

According to the notice, STAAR progress measures will be calculated for STAAR and STAAR Alternate 2 for the following grade levels and subject areas:

  • Grade 5 Reading English, Reading Spanish (STAAR only), Mathematics English, and Mathematics Spanish (STAAR only)
  • Grade 6 Reading and Mathematics
  • Grade 7 Reading and Mathematics
  • Grade 8 Reading and Mathematics
  • Algebra I
  • English I (STAAR Alternate 2 only)
  • English II

The agency has not determined whether these modified progress measures will be used in the Texas public school accountability system’s “School Progress” and “Closing the Gaps” domains, which are two of three domains used to determine academic accountability “A-F” ratings and interventions for public schools. The third domain used to calculate a composite score for districts and campuses is the “Student Achievement” domain.

TEA warns in the notice that the modified progress measure for 2020-21 is different from previous years both in context (massive educational disruptions) and in methodology. The agency also advises against using the measures for the new optional Teacher Incentive Allotment.

Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott and TEA announced that STAAR scores would not be required factors in determining fifth and eighth grade promotion this year. However, state officials have not shown a willingness to waive testing requirements for a second year. At a Sept. 18 event in Dallas, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath was quoted as saying, “Teaching without some form of testing is just talking.”

The admitted difficulty in relying on modified measures during a pandemic points to the inappropriateness of using STAAR scores for any high-stakes purposes at this time. While standardized testing may provide some insight into learning, any interpretation of STAAR data will be highly suspect and unreliable due to the myriad other factors that have arisen during the pandemic. As urged by our House of Delegates earlier this year, ATPE will continue to advocate at the state and federal levels for relief from testing and accountability requirements during this challenging and unusual academic year.

ATPE submits interim testimony to House committees on COVID-19, school funding, and more

As we have been reporting here on Teach the Vote, several Texas legislative committees have solicited written feedback from stakeholders this year in lieu of taking public testimony at in-person hearings this year. House and Senate committees have been tasked by Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, respectively, with studying interim charges on a host of issues and offering recommendations to the 87th Texas Legislature that will convene in January 2021.

The House Public Education Committee recently issued formal requests for information on a handful of its interim charges. Today ATPE submitted the following responses, sharing our members’ feedback on these issues:

  • Interim Charge 1[A] asks the committee to monitor implementation of House Bill (HB) 3, the comprehensive school finance bill passed in 2019 that resulted in compensation increases for many teachers. In response to this charge, the committee is focusing specifically on “pay raises districts have provided to staff and the various approaches adopted to differentiate these salary increases according to experience.” ATPE’s submission highlights the importance of elevating educators’ pay as a means of raising the prestige of the profession. We are recommending that lawmakers ensure funding is in place to maintain educator salary increases under HB 3 and encourage districts to distribute any additional funding in the form of permanent raises. ATPE also shares our feedback on ongoing implementation of the bill’s merit pay program known as the Teacher Incentive Allotment.
  • With Interim Charge 1[B], the committee seeks feedback on school accountability, assessment, interventions, and school district-charter partnerships. ATPE’s submission includes general observations about the state’s A-F accountability rating system and various bills passed in recent years that have affected student testing and the manner in which school districts and campuses are rated. We highlight our concerns about the use of data derived from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) and other tests during the 2020-21 school year while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the educational environment.
  • Interim Charges 1[C], 1[D], 1[E], and 1[F] all sought input on school safety and mental health initiatives spurred by legislation in recent years. ATPE submitted feedback on these charges emphasizing the heightened importance of health and safety measures being prioritized amid the pandemic, the need for continued funding of these initiatives, the vital role of school counselors and other mental health professionals employed in public schools, and the recommendation that classroom teachers be involved in task forces that are studying mental health issues for students.
  • The committee solicited information about digital learning with its Interim Charge 2. ATPE’s response answers the committee’s questions about barriers to providing a digital learning environment for all students and determining where gaps exist in internet coverage.
  • The committee also sought information for an interim study of COVID-19. ATPE’s submission for this interim charge addresses very specific question posed by the committee: “Are Texas public schools ensuring the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff during the 2020 Fall Semester? ATPE shares insights gleaned from a member survey we conducted last week through the Advocacy Central section of our website on this topic, along with concerns we have heard from educators dealing with the pandemic. Safety protocols, workload impacts, educator retention, and the difficulty of adhering to rigid high-stakes testing requirements amid the pandemic are some of the concerns highlighted in our written input.

The House Appropriations Committee similarly solicited written input from stakeholders regarding its interim charges. ATPE submitted comments today to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III, which oversees the state budget for public education. Our input focused on the costs of implementing HB 3 and areas where the state could save money during the COVID-19 pandemic, including halting charter expansions and pursuing a second-year waiver of federal testing and accountability requirements.

Teachers, superintendents, and commissioner speak at Tribune Festival

The Texas Tribune is holding its annual Texas Tribune Festival this month. Rather than an in-person event jam-packed with speakers over a few days, this year’s festival is taking place virtually throughout the entire month of September. The event still features a prominent strand of panels and interviews related to education. A session held this morning, “Public Education in the Time of COVID,” featured two teachers, two superintendents, and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. Here’s what the panelists had to say.

No more high-fives or cozy reading corners. Texas public school teachers Paige Stanford (Waco ISD) and Ale Checka (Forth Worth ISD) are optimistic about the school year and simultaneously saddened by the lack of physical interaction they anticipate having with their students. Both teachers highlighted how the pandemic has changed their community, from inspiring more empathy to creating traumatic situations. In Stanford’s school district, she said, “the streets went empty,” when Waco ISD principal Phillip Perry passed away from COVID-19, but Stanford added that students are now excited to help others by wiping down their desks after class. A shift in attitudes has impacted teachers, too. Checka said she, “will never forget or forgive the way that state leadership has tried everything possible for us to not be able to follow local public health guidelines.”

Superintendents Dr. LaTonya Goffney (Aldine ISD) and Dr. Michael Hinojosa (Dallas ISD) were each in different stages of reopening their districts for instruction, but both expressed that assessment will be key in determining how to support students and fill in learning gaps from the spring. Since Aldine ISD has already started instruction, Goffney was able to confirm that enrollment in the district has declined by about 3,500 students (out of 67,200), with more than 50% of the decline occurring in pre-Kindergarten. This comment trends with other anecdotes gathered by ATPE, which suggest parents are choosing to keep their children out of optional grades such as pre-K and Kindergarten. Goffney said her district is trying to identify students who are not showing up to school, but many students are impacted by policy changes outside of the school’s purview, such as the rental assistance program in the Houston area.

Both superintendents on today’s panel said their districts spent millions of unanticipated dollars on personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies, sanitizer, plexiglass, face shields, masks, misters, food, and devices to keep students safe and learning. Aldine ISD spent $10 million while Dallas ISD spent $31 million. Many of these costs will be reimbursed at 75% through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, while others will be handled through the state’s Operation Connectivity program. In the long-term, Hinojosa said he is concerned about being able to maintain many of the programs his district offers.

It would have been nice for Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to respond directly to some of the comments made by the teachers and superintendents, as would have been possible in a regular in-person panel. However, the answers he provided to moderator and Texas Tribune education reporter Aliyya Swaby did shed some light on important policy topics, such as accountability.

It is no secret that Morath loves data, as it undergirds all of his discussions. Much like they did in the spring, Texas school districts will use existing data reporting systems to track where students are receiving instruction. The commissioner said we are about two or three weeks away from being able to look at this data, but Morath noted that it seems the majority of students are in remote instructional settings. This is despite the fact that the “overwhelming majority” of districts, according to Morath, are offering in-person instruction.

With regard to standardized testing and accountability, Morath expressed his view that most people want more data during a pandemic, not less. The commissioner said assessing expectations of students is still important for ensuring they are meeting milestones for success later in life. Morath believes the STAAR tests are an accurate gauge for mastery, which then provide educators with information on who needs extra support so that we can help students reach their potential. These comments reflect the commissioner’s views of assessment as a diagnostic tool, which Morath spoke about during an SBOE meeting earlier this year.

The commissioner stressed that the state tests use data on student growth over the course of the year and that parents still deserve to know that information about their school. ATPE and many others have questioned whether any growth measures will be accurate this year, given the loss of learning in the spring during COVID-19 school closures, rapid transitions to remote learning, and the loss of contact with 11% of students. Nevertheless, Morath didn’t indicate any easing up on district and campus accountability ratings using the test scores, saying the data will help to identify best practices of those who do well during the pandemic. Unscientifically identifying some things that work during one year of an exceptional time might satisfy the curiosity of some, but at what expense to schools and districts that experience negative accountability interventions and sanctions due to a pandemic?

Morath closed out his remarks by expressing satisfaction with the amount of money that had been allocated to districts to mitigate COVID-19 costs and pay for closing the digital divide. He also expressed hope that public health data expected to be posted toward the end of September will help the state identify if there is viral spread in schools.

The Texas Tribune Festival continues through Sept. 30, and it includes numerous free events that are available to stream right now. As usual, the festival features specially priced educator and student tickets, which provide full access at a fraction of the cost. Nearly all of the festival events, including this morning’s education panel, are available for replay on demand for ticket holders who may have missed previous events.

Betsy DeVos tells states not to expect student testing waivers

Betsy DeVos

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sent a letter to the top school official in every state today regarding federal requirements for student testing in the 2020-21 school year. States requested and the secretary granted a waiver of testing mandates for 2019-20 when the novel coronavirus forced schools to abruptly shut down during the spring. However, DeVos makes it clear in her Sept. 3 letter that the Trump administration has no intention of waiving the testing requirements again this year.

Below is an excerpt from the letter in which DeVos claims there is broad support for testing and urges the states to demonstrate their “resolve” in these challenging times by continuing to administer the assessments to students:

“Several of your colleagues recently inquired about the possibility of waivers to relieve states of the requirement to administer standardized tests during School Year (SY) 2020-2021. You will recall that, within a very short time, waivers were granted to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the Bureau of Indian Education this past spring following the declaration of a national emergency. That was the right call, given the limited information available about the virus at the time and the need to stop its spread, as well as the practical realities limiting the administration of assessments. However, it is now our expectation that states will, in the interest of students, administer summative assessments during the 2020-2021 school year, consistent with the requirements of the law and following the guidance of local health officials. As a result, you should not anticipate such waivers being granted again.”

A growing number of elected officials on both sides of the political spectrum, parent groups, and education associations including ATPE have called for student testing requirements to be waived in 2020-21. As we have previously reported here on Teach the Vote, Texas Governor Greg Abbott removed a few of the high stakes attached to STAAR test results this year but has not shown interest in a broader waiver of testing requirements, despite the fact that many schools have had to delay the start of the new school year. The ATPE House of Delegates also passed a resolution this summer calling for a waiver of STAAR and TELPAS requirements this year due to the ongoing negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education system.

While there has been widespread bipartisan support for cutting back on student testing, the general election coming up in November will play a large role in determining whether high-stakes tests are actually administered this year and used for such purposes as school accountability grades and determining teachers’ evaluations and compensation. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for updates.