Tag Archives: Algebra

House committees look at student ticketing, math courses and testing

The House Committee on Public Education met twice this week to review the implementation of several bills passed last year. The first was a joint hearing with the House Committee on Corrections to discuss school discipline and the implementation of Senate Bills (SB) 393 and 1114 related to student ticketing. In a separate meeting, the education committee had ongoing discussions about the implementation of House Bill (HB) 5, the bill that made sweeping changes to the state’s graduation requirements and testing requirements.

SB 393 and SB 1114 were passed in 2013 in an attempt to reduce the issuance of criminal tickets to students for minor school offenses. This week’s joint committee meeting revealed that since the implementation of those bills in September of last year, the number of court filings resulting from the issuance of class C misdemeanor tickets for school offenses has dropped by 90,000. That number represents an 83 percent decrease. During the same period, the number of school arrests, suspensions and referrals to alternative campuses has remained stable or decreased slightly. According to testimony at the hearing, this suggests that the drop in student ticketing has not had a negative impact on the campus environment with regard to discipline.

While SB 393 and SB 1114 did not cut off the ability to use the criminal justice system as a deterrent and tool to maintain school discipline, the goal of the bills was to decriminalize school offenses in most situations. Advocates on all side of this issue want to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, and in doing so, ATPE also wants to ensure that educators feel supported and in fact are supported in their efforts to maintain discipline in their classrooms.

We want to know what you think about student ticketing. Please post your comments on our blog and let us know what your experience has been at the campus level since the passage of SB 393 and SB 1114.

During the subsequent meeting on Oct. 8, the House Committee on Public Education heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials and experts about new courses being developed in response to HB 5 to serve as equivalently rigorous alternatives to Algebra II. According to testimony at the hearing, the new Non-AP Statistics course being developed is on track to be completed soon. The Algebraic Reasoning course is proving to be more difficult. Many advocates of that course, including some legislators, envision Algebraic Reasoning as an applications-style course for Algebra II. However, that type of course is proving more challenging to develop because any course based on the existing Algebra II TEKS that would require a teacher to use applications would likely cross the line into specifying a method of teaching, which is illegal in Texas.

Despite the difficulties, Dr. Uri Treisman of the University of Texas’ Dana Center, a mathematics think tank, applauded the state on the efforts being made and informed the committee that what they are striving for is in alignment with where higher education has been moving. According to Dr. Treisman, institutions of higher education have for several years been moving away from a single college math pathway based on Algebra, favoring multiple pathways instead. Such pathways include the traditional Algebra route as well as pathways based on Statistics and Quantitative Modeling.

In addition to the receiving the update on new math courses, committee members raised several questions about the state’s testing and accountability system. The committee voiced considerable concern about the removal of the STAAR Modified test and the impact of that change on schools and students with disabilities. TEA representatives also caused a stir among the committee when they relayed that TEA had kicked out sample STAAR test items based on the percentage of students who answered the question correctly. According to TEA, if more than 90-95 percent or less than 25 percent of tests takers answered an item correctly, it was removed. The committee noted that it seemed patently unfair to remove a question that tested basic TEKS merely because all or nearly all students answered the question correctly. A public witness who testified later during the hearing noted that by removing questions in that manner, TEA had essentially converted what was supposed to be a criterion-referenced assessment into a normative assessment. Many education experts believe that normative assessments should never be used for high stakes or accountability purposes.

At one point during the hearing, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble) announced that he was seriously considering filing a bill in the next session to do away with state-mandated standardized testing altogether. A representative of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) shared with the committee that more than 35 states do not use standardized testing as a graduation requirement and implored the committee to consider changing state law to make any statewide testing system diagnostic only. ATPE member Cynthia Ruiz, an English teacher from Pflugerville ISD, eloquently testified about the problem of teaching to the test and the failings of the STAAR writing test. Several committee members thanked her for her testimony.

Video of the Joint Committee hearing on school discipline and student ticketing can be viewed here. Video of the House Public Education Committee’s HB 5 hearing can be viewed here.

Technical difficulties at TEA

Late Wednesday evening, Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials confirmed via a Listserv message their knowledge of the recent bankruptcy filing of ConnectEDU. A subsidiary of ConnectEDU, Epsilen, is the vendor that supplies the learning management system (LMS) behind TEA’s Project Share and hosts other data repositories at portals for the agency.

Project Share provides content resources, professional development,  networking and professional learning communities for educators and students throughout Texas and claims more than 3 million subscribers. TEA also hired ConnectEDU to develop a system housing assessments that teachers can use to track students’ progress, such as for purposes of algebra readiness, throughout the school year. The company has been hired by several other states for data services, including helping states such as New York implement the Common Core state standards for curriculum and helping Montana provide all students and teachers with access to longitudinal student data through college planning portals.

Already, the bankruptcy development has apparently resulted in educators having limited access to Project Share this week. TEA has advised that anyone with content saved in the Project Share system should also “ensure the content is saved elsewhere.” The Listserv message also says, “TEA is working to ensure safekeeping of all Texas-owned data and will share additional information as it becomes available.” No further details have been provided, and there is no mention of the problem on TEA’s website at this time.

The announcement about ConnectEDU/Epsilen and its impact on Project Share highlights growing concerns about the security of sensitive student data that is maintained en masse by private external vendors, and the timing couldn’t be much worse. It comes the same week that TEA is promoting its new plan for teacher and principal evaluation systems that will be tied to student test score data. (For what it’s worth, SAS is the company providing the value-added measurement technology that will be used for the state’s new system and is already part of other evaluation systems used by some of the largest school districts in Texas. Epsilen identifies SAS on its website as one of its corporate “partners.”)

The technical difficulties presented as a result of the sudden ConnectEDU/Epsilen bankruptcy announcement are not the only ones plaguing TEA right now. Yesterday, the agency urged all school districts, charter schools and education service centers to install software patches to protect their computers against a hacking vulnerability recently uncovered that affects Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. They also recommended that education agencies temporarily disable any AdobeFlash software “until all patches have been tested and deployed at the local level.”

And the hits keep coming. Today, the agency also announced that its website will be down from 5 a.m. Saturday, May 10, through 8 a.m. Sunday, May 11. This is due to a scheduled power outage at the TEA building, and it may also cause email delays during that time frame.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more developments.

NOTE: This post was updated on May 9 with clarifications requested by the Texas Education Agency.

House Public Education Committee discusses HB 5 implementation

Today, the House Public Education Committee is meeting to discuss issues related to House Bill (HB) 5, the bill from the 83rd legislative session that made sweeping changes to high school graduation requirements and student testing. The committee’s interim charges being discussed today include monitoring the implementation of HB 5, working to ensure the creation of additional rigorous math and science courses, reviewing the broad scope and breadth of the curriculum standards (TEKS) and considering possible ways to alleviate testing in grades 3-8.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will be testifying at today’s hearing. His comments will focus on the need to maintain college and career readiness, TEKS redesign and the creation of new math courses. You can watch today’s proceedings live or stay tuned for a recap of today’s hearing, which will be posted to this blog.

From TEA: USDE denies state’s double-testing waiver request

The U.S. Department of Education has advised the Texas Education Agency that the state’s waiver request to address the issue of multiple assessments for students taking Algebra I at the middle school level will not be granted.

In spite of this federal decision, Commissioner of Education Michael Williams is discouraging local school districts and charters from double-testing middle school students taking Algebra I. However, the Commissioner noted the decision about whether to administer multiple assessments is ultimately a local one. Eighth grade mathematics testing in Texas is scheduled to begin on April 1.

“The waiver request was submitted because I do not believe that double testing middle school students is instructionally appropriate nor a valid evaluation of mathematics for Texas middle schools and high schools,” said Commissioner Williams. “Given state and federal testing requirements, federal denial of our amendment request, and the Texas Legislature’s decision to reduce end-of-course testing to one high school mathematics assessment, I am eliminating any perceived incentives a district might have had for double testing students for accountability purposes.”

The Commissioner has formally notified all Texas school districts and charters that for 2014 and 2015 state and federal accountability, if a student takes the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR®) Algebra I end-of-course assessment and a STAAR mathematics grade level assessment, only the results of the Algebra I assessment will be included in the accountability calculations for the campus and the district where the student tested. Although taken while in middle school, the Algebra I EOC would count toward a student’s high school graduation requirements under House Bill 5.

Commissioner Williams acknowledged his primary concern remains that some school districts may make poor instructional decisions regarding accelerated students.  For example, to avoid the dilemma of having these students’ scores attributed to a middle school campus (instead of the high school campus), some districts might reconsider offering Algebra I at the middle school level.

“Such a move would seriously disadvantage students who move quickly through the mathematics curriculum in grades K-8 and would benefit from taking advanced coursework in middle school,” said Commissioner Williams. “Should a Texas district or charter elect to make such a move, this stalls students’ academic progress and provides them with one less opportunity to take an advanced mathematics course or another relevant upper-division course in high school.”

Given his concern, Commissioner Williams said the Texas Education Agency will be analyzing course completion data submitted by school districts to ensure that enrollment in Algebra I by middle school students does not precipitously decline beginning with the 2014-2015 school year.  Based on this annual analysis, some school districts may be contacted to explain reductions in Algebra I enrollments by middle school students.

Current federal accountability requirements call for students to have a mathematics score every year in grades 3–8, as well as a mathematics score in high school. The federal government requires states that offer only one mathematics assessment at the high school level (which can also be taken by middle school students) to ensure there is a separate mathematics result that can be attributed to a high school.

Late last year, Commissioner Williams advised the U.S. Department of Education that Texas would be seeking to amend its conditional waiver of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provisions. In its communications with the agency, U.S. Department of Education officials informed the Texas Education Agency that similar waiver requests from other states have not been approved.

SBOE approves new graduation requirements

Today the State Board of Education (SBOE) voted 14-1 on final rules to implement new graduation requirements mandated by last year’s House Bill (HB) 5. Facing pressure from many stakeholders with opposing viewpoints, the board struck a compromise today that ATPE believes will allow ample flexibility for school districts and students while helping ensure that students are prepared for post-secondary success.

At the center of the debate was the treatment of Algebra II, which prior to the passage of HB 5, was a statutorily mandated course for graduation under the Recommended and Advanced high school programs. Through HB 5, the legislature created a single high school graduation plan based on a foundation curriculum plus subject-specific endorsement areas. In doing so, legislators eliminated the specific mandate in statute that Algebra II be taken as the third math course required for graduation. Even though the statutes as amended by HB 5 no longer specify Algebra II as one of the required math courses, state law gives the SBOE authority to adopt additional or more specific graduation requirements beyond what the legislature mandates.

The board decided today that only students pursuing a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) endorsement under the new high school diploma structure should be required to take Algebra II. Students pursuing other endorsements may choose to take Algebra II or another math course from among a short list; that list will soon include two new advanced math classes, algebraic reasoning and statistics, which are currently being developed. The lone dissenting vote today came from SBOE District 1 member Martha Dominguez, who felt that Algebra II was an important factor in students’ college success and should be required for all students.

Education stakeholders also voiced much concern in the recent months of SBOE deliberations about the future of speech courses. While not required by law, the SBOE has required students to earn one-half credit in speech as a graduation requirement since 1996. HB 5 did not address the speech requirement, again leaving the board with discretion to decide whether or not to continue its requirement. The board’s preliminary proposal in November would have eliminated the speech requirement altogether. Recent surveys conducted by ATPE and by SBOE District 9 member Thomas Ratliff showed strong support among educators for continuing a speech requirement at the state level, but several school districts urged the board to eliminate the requirement. SBOE members settled this week on a plan to designate Communications Applications—the primary course used to fulfill the current speech requirement—as one of the courses that can satisfy the fourth-year advanced English course required by HB 5. The speech course will no longer be required, but districts must still ensure that all students master certain communications-related skills.

Read the Texas Education Agency’s press release on the new graduation plan approved today. Also, check out today’s press statement by ATPE State President Ginger Franks in response to the vote.

Legislative Update: A new legislator, graduation requirements and early childhood education

Texas House District 50 has elected a new state representative. Democrat Celia Israel won yesterday’s special election runoff to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. Mark Strama (D–Austin). She’ll take over that seat for the remainder of this year and is also on the 2014 ballot seeking a full term that would begin in January 2015.

Related Teach the Vote content: Monday is the deadline to register to vote in the March primary election. ATPE State President Ginger Franks recently spoke about the importance of voting.

The State Board of Education meeting continues this week, with much attention focused on the anticipated adoption of new graduation requirements. You can watch the hearings online.

In related news, Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams gave a keynote address yesterday at the annual Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) Midwinter Conference in Austin. He expressed support for preparing all students to go to college and requiring them to take Algebra II. Williams also stressed the need to close performance gaps for minority students.

In Washington, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce announced that it will hold a Feb. 5 hearing entitled “The Foundation for Success: Discussing Early Childhood Education and Care in America.”

Legislative Update: A busy day in spite of the weather

Icy weather in Central Texas has forced closures of many schools and delayed the start of today’s State Board of Education meeting until noon. The agenda for this week’s SBOE meeting features a final vote on new graduation requirements, including a decision on Algebra II, pursuant to House Bill 5.

Watch the hearings online through the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website. TEA has announced that anyone who intended to testify at today’s hearing today but is unable to travel due to the weather may email written testimony to the board instead (sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us).

Related Teach the Vote content: Read about the SBOE’s preliminary recommendations for the graduation requirements and ATPE’s testimony at the November board meeting, and watch a media interview with ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter about the Algebra II debate.

Today is election day for candidates in the runoff to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. Mark Strama (D–Austin) in House District 50. Democrat Celia Israel and Republican Mike VandeWalle are on the ballot. Some polls are opening later than originally scheduled because of the weather, and voter turnout is likely to be very low. Visit the Travis County Clerk’s Election Division for more information on when and where to vote if you live in HD 50. This is an important race, and there will be plenty of time for you to head to the polls this afternoon after the ice thaws.

Related Teach the Vote content: Visit the 2014 Races page to view profiles of all candidates for legislative and State Board of Education seats on the ballot this year..

Today is the last day to submit public comments via email (rules@tea.state.tx.us) on new teaching standards proposed by the commissioner of education. Commissioner Michael Williams is also scheduled to deliver a keynote speech this afternoon at the TASA Midwinter Conference in Austin.

Related Teach the Vote content: Read background information about the standards and how they were developed.

In Washington, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce has a meeting scheduled this morning for its Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training. The hearing is entitled “Keeping College Within Reach: Sharing Best Practices for Serving Low-Income and First Generation Students.” Watch the live proceedings online.