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New School Year, New Laws: Curriculum and Instruction

When the 86th Texas Legislature convened for its 2019 regular session, members of the state Senate and House of Representatives focused much of their attention on school finance and school safety. Issues that once held center-stage in a legislative session, like accountability, vouchers, and payroll deduction took a backseat (or weren’t even in the car). However, there were several bills passed this year that will impact teachers’ bread and butter – teaching and learning. In this week’s “New School Year, New Laws” post, we will fill you in on legislative changes impacting curriculum and instruction.

House Bill (HB) 391 by Rep. César Blanco (D-El Paso): Printed instructional materials

By law, parents are entitled to request that their child be allowed to take home instructional materials. Districts and charter schools must honor this request. However, in some cases, those instructional materials are online and the parents do not have the appropriate technology at home to access them. In this event, HB 391 dictates that the district or charter school provide the materials in print, which could be printouts of the relevant electronic materials. This law became effective immediately upon its passage.

HB 2984 by Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio): Technology applications TEKS

Technology applications is part of the “enrichment curriculum” offered by school districts. HB 2984 directs the State Board of Education (SBOE) to revise the grades K-8 Texas essential knowledge and skills (TEKS) for technology applications, specifically by adding in curriculum standards for coding, computer programming, computational thinking, and cybersecurity. The SBOE must complete this task by Dec. 31, 2020, so be on the lookout for information from ATPE about opportunities to participate in the process and provide public comment.

HB 3012 by Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock): Providing instruction to students who are suspended

Most teachers have probably experienced what happens when a student is placed in either in-school or out-of-school suspension (ISS/OSS). The student often comes back to the classroom having missed days or weeks of instruction that can be hard to make up. HB 3012 requires districts to provide suspended students with an alternative means of accessing all “foundation curriculum” or core coursework (math, science, English language arts, and social studies). The district must also provide at least one option for receiving the coursework that doesn’t require access to the Internet. Whether or not this requirement for providing coursework will trickle down to the individual teacher level is still unclear. This bill became effective immediately.

HB 4310 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D- Houston): Time for scope and sequence

HB 4310 applies to the scope and sequence created by districts for foundation curricula. Under the new law, a district must ensure sufficient time for teachers to teach and students to learn the TEKS in a given scope and sequence. Additionally, a district cannot penalize a teacher who determines that their students need more or less time and thus doesn’t follow the scope and sequence. However, the law does say that a district can take action with respect to teachers who don’t follow the scope and sequence if there is documented evidence of a deficiency in their classroom instruction. This law became effective immediately.

HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): G/T programming and funding

The gifted and talented (G/T) allotment was eliminated in this year’s big school finance bill, HB 3, but the requirement that school districts provide G/T programming did not go away. When HB 3 was heard by the House Public Education and Senate Education committees, many parents and students testified on the importance of keeping gifted and talented programming and urged lawmakers to maintain the allotment. In response, Chairman Huberty and other lawmakers explained that funding for G/T through the allotment has been capped at 5% of average daily attendance, even though a district may actually enroll more than 5% of its students in G/T programs. As a result, every district essentially received the maximum amount possible. HB 3 rolls this amount into the new basic allotment as the mechanism for funding G/T, rather than having a stand-alone allotment.

To quell fears that G/T programs might disappear along with the allotment, HB 3 states that districts must provide a G/T program consistent with the state plan for G/T and must annually certify to the commissioner of education their compliance with the law. If a district does not comply, the state will revoke its funding in an amount calculated using the same formula for the old G/T allotment. The bill also requires districts to comply with the use of G/T funds as outlined in State Board of Education (SBOE) rule.

These changes to how G/T programs are funded took effect immediately upon the passage of HB 3. Learn more about the new G/T requirements and funding expectations in this “HB 3 in 30” video provided by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

HB 4205 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland): Teacher effectiveness and value-added modeling in turnaround schools

HB 4205 was originally introduced as a bill to allow a campus in Midland ISD to be repurposed by a nonprofit entity while maintaining the same student population. As the bill made its way through the legislative process, it was expanded beyond Midland ISD and amended to include language from Senate Bill (SB) 1412 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) regarding accelerated campus excellence (ACE) plans. ACE is a campus turnaround option that prescribes personnel, compensation, and programming decisions meant to improve student performance. A last-stage amendment also added a requirement that personnel decisions under a school’s ACE turnaround plan must be made using a value-added model (VAM) for determining instructional effectiveness. After this change was made, which ATPE opposed, the House unfortunately voted to concur in the Senate amendments and the bill was signed by the Governor.

Under the final version of HB 4205 as passed, at least 60 percent of teachers assigned to the campus must have demonstrated instructional effectiveness during the previous school year. For teachers who taught in the same district in the prior year, this effectiveness standard is to be determined by classroom observation and assessing the teacher’s impact on student growth using VAM based on at least one student assessment instrument selected by the district. For teachers who did not teach in the district the previous year, instructional effectiveness will be determined by data and other evidence indicating that if the teacher had taught in the district, they would have been ranked among the top half of teachers there. Teacher pay under this type of plan must include a three-year commitment to provide “significant incentives” to compensate high-performing principals and teachers.

In the 2019-20 school year, the ACE provisions in HB 4205 will only apply to one district that received an unacceptable rating for 2017-18, as chosen by the commissioner of education. In 2020-21, the ACE option under HB 4205 will open up to all districts that have been required to complete a campus turnaround plan.

There are many aspects of this new law that ATPE opposes, which we expressed to lawmakers through oral testimony and written input on SB 1412 and HB 4205 as they were moving through the legislative process earlier this year. Our opposition was based on the following formal positions that have been adopted by ATPE members:

  • ATPE opposes the use of student performance, including test scores, as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, as the determining factor for a teacher’s compensation, or as the primary rationale for an adverse employment action.
  • ATPE believes students’ state-level standardized test scores should not be a component of teacher evaluations until such time as they can be validated through a consensus of independent research and peer review for that purpose.
  • ATPE opposes the use of value-added modeling or measurement (VAM) at the individual teacher level for teacher evaluation purposes or decisions about continued employment of teachers. (Learn more about our VAM concerns here.)
  • ATPE supports incorporating measures of student growth at the campus level or higher into evaluations of educators as long as the measures are developed with educator input, piloted, and deemed statistically reliable.
  • ATPE opposes incentive or performance pay programs unless they are designed in an equitable and fair manner as determined by educators on a campus basis.

Your ATPE Governmental Relations team will be monitoring these pieces of legislation as they are implemented.


Next Monday, we will continue ATPE’s “New School Year, New Laws” series here on Teach the Vote with a post on assessment-related bills passed during the 2019 legislative session.

Senate Education Committee wraps up regular hearings

The Senate Education Committee met Thursday, May 16, to hold what is expected to be its last meeting to consider new legislation. The committee will continue to hold formal meetings as necessary for the sole purpose of voting out bills that have already been heard. Members heard testimony on the following bills:

  • HB 961, which would require that school districts and charters that employ a school nurse place the nurse on the concussion oversight team upon the nurse’s request. Nurses on these teams must then take a concussions training course every two years to be on the team.
  • HB 2778, which would update the local bracket to a joint election agreement in Rep. Tracy King’s (D-Batesville) district regarding election expenses.
  • HB 2818, which would remove the requirement that an online dropout recovery program establish satisfactory requirements for monthly progress. The bill states that online dropout recovery programs are not subject to minutes of instructions and calculations of average daily attendance (ADA) and would create new requirements for how ADA will be calculated.
  • HB 3012, which would require that school districts provide students an alternative means of instruction for the classes the student misses while in in-school suspension (ISS) or out-of-school suspension (OSS). The bill states that at least one option should not require the use of the internet. The committee substitute for this bill reduces this requirement to apply only to core courses.
  • HB 3650, which would require the district and institution of higher education to consider the use of free or low-cost open educational resources in courses offered under an agreement to provide a dual credit program to high school students.
  • HB 496, which would require school districts and charters to develop and implement a bleeding control kit program. The version passed by the House incorporates changes ATPE recommended to strengthen educators’ immunity from liability.
  • HB 663, which would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and revise the Texas essential knowledge and skills (TEKS) for the foundation curriculum.
  • HB 769, which would require a school board to receive approval from the commissioner for any severance payment to a superintendent who has been terminated based on malfeasance. The committee substitute for the bill clarifies the definition of malfeasance and removes retroactive reporting.
  • HB 974, which would change the cycle of the safety and security audit to two years from three and require districts to check the ID of a person who is coming to the school for a non-public event. Current law leaves checking IDs for non-public events up to districts.
  • HB 1388, which adds indicators of post-secondary readiness to the accountability system. In the student achievement domain, for high school campuses and districts with high school campuses, the bill provides for a measure of students (rather than a percentage of students) who successfully complete an SBOE-approved practicum or internship and students who successfully complete a coherent CTE sequence. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 1906, which would allow a parent of a student with severe cognitive disabilities to request that the child be exempted from required assessments. This bill was amended on the House floor to add a section on evaluating specialized support campuses. For a campus in which at least 90 percent of students receive special education services, the bill would require the commissioner, in consultation with administrators, teachers, parents, and guardians, by rule to establish accountability guidelines for a specialized support campus in developing an alternative accountability program.
  • HB 2184, which would create collaborative policies for improving a student’s transition from an alternative education setting back to the regular classroom. A committee substitute for the bill clarifies that teachers who implement the transition plan are included on the planning committee. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 2511, which would require campus improvement plans to include goals and methods for bullying prevention and dropout deterrence, including providing teacher continuing education and materials or training for parents. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 3435, which would establish March 1 as Texas Girls in STEM Day.
  • HB 3511, which would create a commission on the Texas workforce of the future. The commission would be established to engage business, state agencies, and local workforce system partners in the efforts of state and local authorities to build the state’s workforce talent pipeline, which includes providing data regarding college and career readiness, workforce credentials, and degree programs. The commission would be required to make recommendations to the legislature, including statutory changes, in order to improve alignment between workforce stakeholders and public schools and higher education, expanding the adult high school and industry certification charter school program, and encourage long-term collaboration between public education, higher education, and industry.
  • HB 3630, which would prohibit a teacher from using “aversive techniques” on a student with a disability receiving special education services.
  • HB 3884, which would transfer duties relating to providing bacterial meningitis information from TEA to the Department of State Health Services. The bill repeals a section of law referring to TEA’s duty to consult with the Texas Department of Health in prescribing the content of information given to students and to establish an advisory committee.
  • HB 4258, which would transfer bond approval for charter schools to the attorney general and requires approval if the guidelines are met.
  • HB 4388, which would require SBOE and the School Land Board (SLB) to share investment information with each other and require SLB to contribute to a newly-created liquid permanent school fund (PSF) account over which the SBOE would have control.

The Senate Education Committee also adopted a committee substitute for HB 3906 today that included the language from the Senate’s version of HB 3 that deals with the STAAR test. This includes provisions that would consolidate reading and writing exams in grades four and eight, cap multiple choice questions, and allow the STAAR to be split over multiple days, among others. Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) explained that this language would be coming out of HB 3, which is currently in a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate versions, in order to address the topic in a separate, standalone bill like HB 3906.

The committee also voted to advance the following bills to the full Senate:

  • HB 496, which was heard earlier in the day. Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) voted against the bill.
  • HB 548, which would require that districts and charters report through the public education information management system (PEIMS) various truancy information, including students subject to compulsory attendance requirements, children who fail to enroll or fail to attend without an excuse for 10 or more days within a six-month period, etc.
  • HB 680, which would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to coordinate with the Texas Workforce Commissioner (TWC) on efforts to improve pre-K quality, and assign a PEIMS number to track children under age six enrolled in the commission’s child care program. The bill would allow local workforce development boards to contract with area child care providers to provide subsidized child care services. Sens. Bettencourt, Hall, and Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) voted against the bill.
  • HB 769, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 961, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 1051, which would continue the Excel Goodwill Charter. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 1131, which would create the “Texas Public Finance Authority” to act as a paying agent under current law for the guarantee and payment of bonds. School districts would also be able to borrow money from the new authority. Sens. Bettencourt, Hall, and Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) voted against the bill. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) registered as present, not voting.
  • HB 2184, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 2210, which states that students who receive residential services in a state hospital will not be considered in the accountability rating of the district or campus that the hospital is located in if their parent does not reside in the district. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 2778, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 3012, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 3435, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 3511, which was heard earlier in the day. Sen. Hall voted against the bill. Sens. Bettencourt and Hughes registered as present, not voting.
  • HB 3630, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 3650, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 3884, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 4205, which would allow repurposed campuses to be operated in partnership with certain nonprofits that have a successful record of operating a campus or charter. This bill was amended on the House floor to include ACE campus turnaround language. ATPE opposes this bill because it would create a statewide campus turnaround plan that includes elements that could tie a teacher’s evaluation to student test scores.
  • HB 4258, which was heard earlier in the day. Sen. West registered as present, not voting.
  • HB 4310, which would require districts to allow teachers sufficient time to teach a given curriculum and states that districts may not penalize a teacher for failing to follow the scope and sequence timeline if the teacher determines that the students need more learning time.
  • HB 4388, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 663, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 3906, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 974, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 4342, which would change the composition of the board of directors of the Texas School Safety Center to include a professional architect and three rather than two members of the public.
  • HB 76, which would allow parents the option of participating in an echocardiogram (ECG) or electrocardiogram (EKG) screening program for any student participating in a University Interscholastic League (UIL) activity that currently requires a physical examination. School districts would be required to provide information about the availability of the tests and would able to partner with a nonprofit to provide the service or could pay for the service themselves. Sens. Bettencourt, Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), and Hall voted against the bill.

Does Gov. Abbott want to spend more on schools?

Election season is truly magical.

There’s just something about the seething mercury, the colorful proliferation of yard signs, and the specter of an existential showdown that awakens a – dare we call it – miraculous clarity in political combatants seeking votes.

When else can one witness folks who’ve spent the past 20 months fighting in bitter opposition to a particular set of constituents suddenly discover a deep love for the values they hold? The Lord works in mysterious ways.

It’s no surprise that we’re now hearing support for improving the school finance system from unexpected corners. To a certain degree, it’s positive evidence that educators are being heard, and that the powers-that-be realize that there is more to gain by working with the education community than working to dismantle it.

That doesn’t mean that efforts to dismantle it behind the scenes will stop. In politics as in statistics, things tend to revert toward the mean. The governing happens long after the polls close. Nonetheless, election season opens a brief window of opportunity to use our seat at the table to advance the conversation.

Let’s apply this lens to the latest Dallas Morning News opinion column by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), with the promising headline, “Texas must boost school funding.” The key passage summarizing Gov. Abbott’s message is as follows:

“We need to pay our best teachers more, reward teachers and districts for student growth, prioritize spending in the classroom and reduce the burden of skyrocketing property taxes. I’ll add up front that I believe the state will have to provide more funding.”

That last line seems to offer an acknowledgment of what we in the education committee have known for some time, but which many in the Capitol have resisted mightily.

The problem, of course, is that many of the people who have opposed investing more state dollars in public education have falsely argued that the state is already increasing education spending year over year. They point to raw dollars going back to a low-water point in 2006 in order to obscure the reality of the deliberate and steady erosion of state support for local schools. Troublingly, Gov. Abbott takes this very tack in writing that “overall education spending in Texas has increased by more than 50 percent since 2006, and the state is contributing 29 percent more education funding per student in that time period.”

Let’s look at that claim.

The numbers in the latter half of that statement come from a Texas Education Agency (TEA) presentation before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The headline of the slide below seems to confirm the governor’s assertion, but look at the orange line indicating funding adjusted for inflation. It clearly shows that in terms of purchasing power, total per-student funding has risen only slightly since 2006, and is roughly equal to per-student funding in 2008. (Click the image to view a larger version.)

Source: Texas Education Agency

What’s perhaps more telling is the blue bar indicating how much funding the state has contributed. I’ve added the red brackets and red horizontal line to make the minute changes easier to see. You can tell that the raw dollar amount the state has contributed has actually decreased slightly since 2008 – and that’s not even adjusted for inflation.

To get to the inflation-adjusted number, we look at the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) Fiscal Size-up for the 2016-2017 biennium. In the chart below, we can see how spending from local property tax revenue (circled in green) has increased, while state aid (circled in blue) has changed little from 2008 levels. In total constant dollars adjusted for inflation (near the red arrow), we see that total funding has in fact decreased.

Source: Legislative Budget Board

The governor also wrongly suggests that funding is not making it into classrooms. According to the TEA’s 2016-17 Pocket Edition statistics, districts only spend an average of 3.1 percent on administrative costs.

To his credit, the governor advocates that increases in funding should go to teachers. No disagreement there. His idea is to implement a system in which top-performing teachers can earn significantly higher pay by teaching in areas facing the most need – similar to the “ACE” system tested in Dallas ISD. It’s a conversation that’s worth having, provided that educators are involved in the process and that the system doesn’t rely primarily on student test results to identify those “top-performing” teachers.

Governor Abbott also suggests moving away from a per-pupil funding model and, implicitly, toward a more outcomes-based approach. This is problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is identifying which metrics with which to measure student performance and the threat of schools faced with the most significant socioeconomic challenges receiving even less support.

Finally, the governor writes that school finance reform must be accompanied by reforms in property taxes. It’s true the two are inextricably intertwined.

Increasing the state’s share of public education funding is the surest way to provide relief in property taxes. The governor proposes forcing taxing entities to lower their rates as appraisals go up, with the state presumably stepping in to make school districts whole. That’s a lot to presume, especially to do so in perpetuity.

Districts could hardly be blamed for wanting to see the legislature commit money up front before committing to voluntarily lower their tax rates – and it will take a sizable appropriation to shift the burden back toward the state in a way that will be meaningful to local property owners. School board members are politicians too, and they don’t want to be blamed for high taxes any more than their counterparts in Austin.

So what does it all mean? Does the governor’s column signify a dramatic reversal of his stance on public education, and school finance in particular? Does it mean he’s ready to stop attacking educators through anti-teacher payroll deduction bills and focus on improving teacher pay instead?

At a minimum, the governor is now talking about public education as an important priority, and that’s a good thing. The onus is on us to engage respectfully yet forcefully, and to shape the conversation, to the extent we can, by correcting inaccuracies and providing meaningful input. At best, we hope the governor will listen to educators and incorporate our feedback, even after the elections are over.

Of course, just as election season begins in the frantic furnace of summer, it ends in darkness on a winter night. When the legislature returns in January, we’ll all be faced with cold reality.