Tag Archives: assessment

Recapping education changes due to the coronavirus

Two months have passed since Austin’s cancellation of the popular South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival became national news as one of the first major events in the country called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also one of the first developments that made many of us wonder how serious the novel coronavirus was. As school districts embarked on their spring breaks, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) began to send out notices advising deep cleaning of school facilities, heightened hygiene practices, and protocols for students and families who might be traveling on vacation. In an interview with the Texas Tribune on March 6, 2020, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath jokingly advised students not to go around licking doorknobs.

Since this preliminary incubation phase (to borrow a term from the virus world), we’ve witnessed a barrage of press conferences, executive orders closing school facilities through the end of the school year, and a triage-like approach to maintaining educational services. New information surfaces daily amid an ever-developing curve of cases, while educators work speedily to learn and implement effective distance learning methods. To help you navigate everything that has happened, the ATPE lobby team offers a recap of the coronavirus-related education developments so far in this blog post, broken down into these categories:


State action in response to the pandemic

On March 13, 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of public disaster in Texas — the same day President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency. At the time, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath erred on the side of local control in letting school districts decide whether or not they wanted to extend their spring breaks or temporarily close down their facilities. Among many worries, school administrators struggled with how they would feed students who relied on school meals.

At a time when over half of Texas school districts had closed and under pressure from both Democratic and Republican legislators, Gov. Abbott agreed on March 16 to cancel this year’s administration of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests. The College Board also cancelled March and May test administrations and has since announced plans to offer the SAT test starting in August. The College Board also is offering online Advanced Placement (AP) exams.

Around the time of these events, TEA launched a new section of its website containing FAQs and guidance aiming to provide some degree of certainty to educators. This site has grown to include links to other web pages that offer meal locations for students and home learning resources. ATPE also launched its own Coronavirus FAQ and Resources web page for educators in early March.

Gov. Abbott explained a new coronavirus executive order during a press conference with other state leaders, March 31, 2020.

On March 19, Gov. Abbott announced the physical closure of schools, gyms, bars, and restaurants through April 3, which included all Texas public and private K-12 and higher education institutions. This order was extended by another month on March 31, when Abbott issued a more restrictive executive order that closed school buildings across Texas until May 4. The order also followed federal guidelines for “essential workers.” Included within the federal definition of essential workers were “Educators supporting public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing other essential functions.” TEA reminded school officials that continued funding during closure of their campuses would be dependent on students receiving instructional support even when they are unable to physically attend school.

On April 17, the governor extended school facility closures through the end of the academic year and announced preliminary plans for reopening Texas in gradual phases. While sharing designs for reopening various businesses, Abbott stated that schools would remain physically closed through the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, although teachers could still access school buildings in order to carry out their duties (including facilitating distance learning). TEA quickly issued its guidance on entering school buildings for more information.

On April 27, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a phased plan to reopen Texas businesses, starting May 1 with limited capacity at malls, movie theaters, retail stores, restaurants, museums, and libraries. Establishments are currently limited to 25% occupancy, although those in counties with five or fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases are allowed up to 50% occupancy. Abbott stated that after two weeks, if there has not been a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, the state will move into its next phase, loosening restrictions and opening hair salons, barbershops, gyms, and bars. However, Abbott on May 5 announced that wedding venues, salons, barbershops, and pools may reopen on May 8, with gyms being allowed to open with reduced occupancy on May 18. The state has yet to allow bars to reopen.

State regulatory entities such as the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), State Board of Education (SBOE), and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) have moved to online meeting platforms to continue fulfilling their duties. The SBOE met via video-conference in mid-April to take up an abbreviated agenda, which included a discussion of funding concerns related to the pandemic. The TRS Board of Trustees also met in mid-April for a truncated online meeting that included a discussion of delaying office space changes until the real estate market stabilizes. TRS was one of the first state bodies to change its practices at the beginning of the pandemic by restricting in-person visits and moving its staff to a tele-working environment. The SBEC board met May 1 to discuss a variety of issues, including the impact of COVID-19 on current and future educators.

Elections have also been affected by the pandemic. Most local elections, including a number of school board races around the state, originally slated for May 2, 2020, were postponed to November. The runoff elections for the Texas primaries have also been postponed from May to July 14, 2020.


Federal action in response to the pandemic

On March 13, President Trump declared a national state of emergency. Five days later, he signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which was the second coronavirus-related aid bill passed by Congress. (The first coronavirus bill signed by the president was a supplemental appropriations package that sent $8.3 billion to federal agencies to promote their work in combating the developing coronavirus crisis in America.) The higher profile FFCRA included, among other provisions, expanded paid sick/family leave and authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to waive federal provisions regarding the National School Lunch Program, allowing schools to continue providing food service to qualifying students while they are not on campus. Read ATPE’s information about the FFCRA here.

On March 27, Congress passed and the president signed a third coronavirus aid package. The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act contains $13.5 billion in funding for K-12 education, plus additional amounts for child nutrition and child care. The bill also included temporary deferment on payments and interest for federal student loans and  a cash assistance program, which has begun to deliver one-time direct payments to qualifying individuals and families. Read ATPE’s information about the CARES Act relief for individuals here.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke at a White House press conference in March 2020.

The CARES Act also authorized the U.S. Secretary of Education to provide flexibility to states in the form of waivers of various federal laws, such as student testing and accountability requirements. CARES also provides $3 billion in relief through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. Read more about the new funding available to Texas under this provision in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. The additional $13.5 billion in dedicated education funding under the CARES Act has yet to be distributed.

On April 27, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced that it will use some of the funding approved by Congress through the CARES Act for competitive grants to states that may use the money for private school vouchers. The $180 million “Rethink K-12 Education Models” or “REM” grant would be available for implementation of voucher programs, statewide virtual learning, or other models of remote learning. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a vocal proponent of vouchers, had previously said her department would urge Congress to approve a form of voucher termed a “microgrant,” but many lawmakers were surprised by her decision to preemptively use the CARES Act funding, intended to provide coronavirus relief, in this manner. Read more about the voucher proposal in this blog post from the ATPE lobby team. Working with our federal lobby team in Washington, D.C., ATPE continues to address this issue with Texas’ Congressional delegation.

A fourth coronavirus aid package was approved by Congress and signed by the president on April 24. Known as the “Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act,” this $484 billion dollar package is focused on loans for small businesses, with other much smaller pots of money for hospitals and increased virus testing. More federal legislation is anticipated in the coming months, which ATPE hopes will include additional funding related to public education.


Waivers are everywhere

At both the state and federal level, waivers have been the preferred method of responding to the challenges facing education during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Waivers are quick, easy, and in some cases can provide automatic relief from mandates that may make an already tough situation tougher. For instance, thanks to a waiver granted to Texas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, parents can pick up meals from ISDs for their children without the children being present. Gov. Abbott also issued several waivers related to educator preparation that will assist candidates in moving forward with their careers while testing centers are closed. More long-term fixes such as funding take longer to roll out, and remedies that require state legislation will have to wait until Texas’ next legislative session in 2021, absent a special session being called by the governor.

TEA has compiled a list of all state and federal waivers. Some waivers don’t require any action by school districts or individuals, as they apply automatically. Others require documentation. For instance, in order to avoid being penalized financially for missed school days, districts must attest that they are providing off-campus instruction to the best of their ability and submit supporting documentation. Additionally, districts must proactively request to waive educator, principal, and administrator appraisals. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes wrote a letter to Commissioner Morath asking for statewide action to suspend appraisals this year for all districts. (See ATPE’s press release here.)

Among the most popular statewide waivers is the assessment and accountability waiver, provided first by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and subsequently (in a streamlined fashion) as part of the CARES Act. Texas received approval from ED that freed our state from student assessment and accountability requirements under federal law. As a result, all districts will officially receive a rating of “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster” for the 2019-20 school year, and the list of schools previously identified for improvement will essentially freeze in place.

The federal government is also offering a spending flexibility waiver that allows states to move money around as they anticipate new expenditures and potential shortfalls. For instance, under this waiver, school districts could carry over as much Title I money from this school year to the next as necessary, spend more Title IV money on technology infrastructure, spend federal funds over a longer period of time, and take advantage of a broader definition of professional development that allows funds to be used on remote instruction training. On April 10, Texas received approval from ED for these waivers and two other waivers that will allow districts to spend federal funds more readily.

Secretary DeVos announced on April 27 that ED would not seek additional waiver authority from Congress for the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Additionally, the Department is not requesting further waiver authority from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), but it is requesting various waivers under other federal education statutes such as the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the IDEA, and the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act that mostly pertain to flexibility in using federal funds. The CARES Act required DeVos to notify Congress 30 days after its passage on any additional requests for waiver authority.


Changes to educators’ work

COVID-19 continues to impact educators’ work lives. ATPE’s lobbyists previously reported on uncertainty around educator preparation and certification procedures during the pandemic since certification tests were suspended through April 30, 2020. TEA has posted information about certification testing and announced that out-of-state educators who are on a one-year certificate will receive an automatic one-year extension. Solving this issue for those in other situations will likely require rulemaking by SBEC and potential legislation during the next legislative session.

TEA’s educator support page features guidance for individuals pursuing educator certification, including details on a waiver from Gov. Abbott that allows certain educator certification candidates to apply for a one-year probationary certificate. If they haven’t already, these candidates will have to complete the fingerprinting process, which — while safer for students — will also create some hiccups as many fingerprinting locations are closed or offering limited appointments. Certification candidates will also have to pay the probationary certificate fee now, plus the standard certificate fee later on when they pass the required examinations. Additionally, candidates must meet all requirements for initial certification, which are outlined in the Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 230, Subchapter B, General Requirements (230.11), with the exception of passing the certification exam. These requirements include having a bachelor’s degree and submitting to a criminal history review. Out-of-state educators who are on a one-year certificate will receive an automatic one-year extension.

On April 2, ATPE sent a letter to Commissioner Morath asking for a statewide suspension of educator appraisals for the 2019-20 school year in light of the closure of school facilities and resulting disruptions to normal classroom instructional practices. Citing the inability to conduct classroom observations, fears of adverse employment actions, and the high stakes attached to teacher evaluations, ATPE urged the commissioner to issue a statewide moratorium rather than allowing evaluations to be conducted in an inconsistent manner at each district’s discretion.

Commissioner Morath wrote a response to our letter on April 23, which was not transmitted to ATPE until May 7. In his reply, Morath declined to issue a statewide order, noting that TEA has offered schools districts opportunities to apply for waivers of certain requirements pertaining to evaluations. TEA posted guidance documents in late April advising that school districts may apply for waivers of educator evaluation requirements found in Sections 21.351, 21.352, 21.354 and 21.3541 of the Texas Education Code, plus related commissioner’s rules in Title 19, Chapter 150 of the Texas Administrative Code, if the districts find that they are unable to complete aspects of the appraisal process.”The decision to pursue waivers of appraisal requirements is strictly a local decision,” the commissioner wrote in his letter to ATPE.

School districts around the state have taken varying approaches to the issue of evaluating their staff during this crisis, and ATPE maintains that educator appraisals conducted in an incomplete or truncated manner are unlikely to yield fair and valid results under current conditions.


The Texas budget

On April 7, 2020, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar sat down (virtually) with Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey, to confirm that Texas is in a recession. Hegar said that Texas will be able to meet current budget obligations through August 31, 2021, despite the recession.

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar was interviewed by the Texas Tribune, April 7, 2020.

On May 1, Hegar announced that state sales tax revenue totaled $2.58 billion in April, which is 9.3 percent less than the $2.8 billion brought in by the state in April 2019, the steepest decline since January 2010. In the summer, Hegar will release an updated revenue estimate that will likely be several billion dollars less. Because the state pumped billions into education during the last legislative session, educators worry that the continued funding commitment might be hard to maintain.

In light of these budget concerns, ATPE joined 17 other organizations calling on Commissioner Morath to place a moratorium on charter school expansion during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Because charters cannot levy taxes, the state picks up the tab in order to fully fund every charter school while reducing the amount of funding available to local school districts. ATPE believes the expansion of charter enrollment during a pandemic with extremely uncertain financial outcomes would be fiscally irresponsible. In fact, the 94 charter expansion amendments currently on file with TEA could cost the state an additional $90 million per year if approved, money that may be sorely needed to shore up budgets of existing public schools across the state.


The road ahead

What lies ahead for Texas education is murky. Many graduation ceremonies this spring will be virtual, socially distanced, and involve a lot of honking car processionals. We still don’t know what a return to school in the fall will look like, or even if there will be a physical return at all should the virus rebound. Will students start back to school earlier in the summer? Will social distancing guidelines still be in place? Will schools implement extended school days or staggered instruction?

With each new piece of guidance or set of rules and policies that agencies and bodies such as TEA, SBEC, SBOE, and TRS develop, we get a little bit more clarity. Rest assured, the ATPE lobby team is involved in this process to make sure the voices of public educators are heard. As developments occur, check ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources and watch for updates here on Teach the Vote and via our @TeachtheVote Twitter account.

One thing we know for sure is that educators are resilient and abundantly caring individuals, which is why each Friday we are featuring a positive educator story in our “Week in Review” blog post. here on Teach the Vote. Thank you to all educators who are still brightening their students’ days, all while taking care of their own needs and the needs of their families. #TeachersCan

Share how you are adapting to a new educational environment during the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to email us your stories, best practices for distance learning, or strategies you’re using to stay upbeat during the crisis.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 20, 2020

It has been a strange week of social distancing, press conferences, rising coronavirus cases, and adjusting to new schedules and work environments. Feel free to get as close to your device as you’d like while reading the latest in education news updates from the ATPE Governmental Relations team, including a lighthearted reminder about the importance of teachers.


Gov. Abbott issues order to close all Texas schools, March 19, 2020.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Last Friday, Gov. Abbott declared a state of public disaster due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday, the governor issued an executive order to close all Texas schools through April 3, 2020, including all Texas public and private K-12 and higher education institutions. The order, which is effective at midnight tonight, also requires the closure of gyms, dine-in restaurants, and bars, restricts nursing home visits, and limits gatherings to fewer than 10 people. In a virtual town hall yesterday evening featuring Gov. Abbott and several other state officials, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath indicated that school closures beyond April 3 will be determined in the coming weeks as the coronavirus crisis evolves.

The executive order follows a decision by the governor earlier this week to cancel STAAR assessments for this year. Many other states have taken the same action and have implored the the Department of Education to cancel federal assessment-related accountability requirements for this year. In a press release today, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos indicated that federal testing requirements will be waived, following a “proper request” from states. Read more about the announcement in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath speaks at town hall, March 19, 2020.

The closure of Texas schools and cancellation of STAAR tests have prompted frequent communication from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). In his segment during the governor’s town hall last night, Commissioner Morath reiterated the information related to the STAAR tests and school meals provided on TEA’s coronavirus resource page. Namely, without the STAAR and end-of-course (EOC) exams, school districts will use local measures to determine promotion and graduation decisions. Additionally, the state has just launched a new “meal finder” tool to help parents find the locations of meals as provided by school districts.

For educators and school district leaders looking for guidance on continuing to provide instruction despite the closure of schools, TEA today issued a set of new tools, including planning checklists and resources to help ensure students have Internet access at home. Other recent guidance from TEA has reminded school officials that continued funding during closure is dependent on students receiving instructional support even when they are unable to physically attend school.

As reported earlier this week on the Teach the Vote blog, in Washington, D.C. President Trump signed the second coronavirus bill, named the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Included in the bill is flexibility to allow schools that have closed due to COVID-19 to continue providing food service to qualifying students while they are not on campus. In Texas and across the nation, school leaders and educators await further changes that may be included in a third coronavirus bill, with a proposal introduced today by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The bill is expected to contain a three-month suspension on federal student loan payments and interest, as well as a provision that grants Secretary DeVos authority to waive any part of federal education law for one year (except certain civil rights laws).

For more on state and federal initiatives this week regarding the coronavirus, see this blog post by the ATPE lobby team. Visit ATPE’s frequently-updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page for expert answers and resources during this unique time. Also, watch for updates from the ATPE lobbyists here on Teach the Vote and via our Twitter account as more regulatory developments occur.


ELECTION UPDATE: This week, Gov. Abbott announced local political subdivisions — such as city councils, county courts, and school boards — are permitted to postpone their May 2 local elections until November 3, 2020. The May 2 municipal elections are separate from the primary runoff elections, which at this point are still set to be held on May 26, 2020. Amid pressure to postpone the runoffs or expand options for early voting and the use of mail-in ballots, Gov. Abbott stated during his March 19 town hall that party leaders have been discussing options and that the state would be announcing more about the runoffs very soon, potentially as early as today.

In the meantime, with county and senatorial district party conventions originally scheduled to take place this weekend, the state Democratic and Republican parties have offered suggestions to their voters on how to keep up with the latest announcements about schedule changes. The Texas Democratic Party is asking voters not to attend county conventions and instead fill out an online form indicating interest in attending the state convention and presidential voting preferences.

The Texas Republican Party shared an update for its voters following last night’s town hall meeting and noted that county party leaders were making individual decisions about cancellation or postponement of their conventions this weekend. According to the message, Republican voters can email convention@texasgop.org or text the word “CONVENTION” to 72000 to receive contact information for their county and notices about conventions.

Read more about what’s going on regarding Texas elections in yesterday’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. As always, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com for election resources created especially for educators, and use our features here on Teach the Vote to learn more about the candidates.


As of this week, over 11 million people living in America filled out the 2020 Census. Census counts determine many important streams of funding, such as for roads, emergency services, and public education. Your response to the census is as crucial as helping to spread the word to others. For census FAQs and information on how coronavirus is impacting this very important data collection, check out this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


To slow the spread of COVID-19, schools all over the country are experiencing extended closures while many employers have instituted work-from-home policies. As schools try to continue instruction and learning for students from afar, parents and guardians are finding themselves thrown into a new and not-so-easy profession: teaching. Discovering how difficult it is to teach just a few kids (let alone a class of 22+), some parents have taken to social media to affirm that teaching is the work of heroes and that teachers should be paid more. For a little levity this afternoon, check out some of the best tweets we’ve seen lately, including one from award-winning popular tv producer Shonda Rimes:


 

 


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.

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.

House Public Education Committee hears bills on civics, bullying, virtual schools, and more

On Tuesday, April 16, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard bills on topics including civics education, the virtual school network, mandate relief, and accountability.

ATPE supported several bills by registering in favor of the following:

  • House Bill (HB) 2642 (Allison, R-San Antonio) would require the Commissioner of Education to adopt rules requiring school districts and charters to annually report Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) data on bullying and cyberbullying incidents.
  • HB 3008 (Talarico, D-Round Rock) would create a civic education project fund consisting of grants, gifts, donations, or money that is appropriated, credited, or transferred at the discretion of the legislature. The fund would be used for professional development and for providing public school students in grades four and above who are economically disadvantaged a chance to complete a civic education project.
  • HB 3133 (Allen, D-Houston) would allow school district employees to use their personal leave for compensation on school holidays. Rep. Allen expressed that this bill is intended to help hourly employees stretch their paychecks over unpaid holidays.
  • HB 3521 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Part of a mandate relief package to eliminate outdated or redundant statutes, this bill would improve teacher retention data by using PEIMS rather than TRS data, makes technical changes to federal references regarding students who are homeless, and creates a uniform definition of homeless children and youth. The bill also removes a reporting requirement on the administration of epi-pens; includes language on notice of charter campus establishment; and strikes a June 1 deadline for instructional materials. The bill repeals TEA’s online clearinghouse of best practices, recognition of high school completion and success and college readiness programs, and energy-efficient light bulbs in instructional facilities requirements. Rep. VanDeaver stated that he may amend the bill to make its charter notification language stronger.
  • HB 3712 (Bucy, D-Austin) would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) to adopt rules requiring a high school student to be provided at least once with practical information about the process of voting in public elections.

ATPE provided written neutral testimony on HB 496 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio). ATPE supports provisions in HB 496 that would help ensure student safety through a bleeding kit program in public schools. However, we are concerned with language in the bill affecting an employee’s civil liability immunity. Read ATPE’s written testimony here.

ATPE also provided written testimony against HB 429 by Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano). The bill includes provisions that would expand virtual school programs. The bill would increase the cost and inefficiency of the public education system by allowing for expanded and duplicative virtual instruction. Furthermore, data show that students enrolled in full-time virtual schools regularly under-perform their peers enrolled in traditional classroom settings. Read ATPE’s written testimony here.

The following bills were also heard by the committee on Tuesday:

  • HB 580 (Thierry, D-Houston) outlines the ability of school districts to contract with and reimburse private employers providing career and technical education (CTE) paid internships to students using CTE funds.
  • HB 662 (King, K., R-Canadian) would prohibit the state from recovering money that was incorrectly delivered to schools in certain circumstances.
  • HB 997 (Collier, D-Fort Worth) would require most school districts and charters to conduct and publicly report on lead contamination testing every five years.
  • HB 2013 (Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio) would allow implementation of a Commissioner or agency rule on accountability to be delayed until the second school year after its adoption.
  • HB 2019 (Geren, R-Fort Worth) would require school districts to send written notice to parents with a link to the sex offender database.
  • HB 2572 (Patterson, R-Frisco) would create a pilot program for Districts of Innovation (DOIs) to use portfolio assessment for students in 8th grade social studies and high-school U.S. History.
  • HB 2818 (Lucio III, D-Brownsville) would remove certain statutory requirements for online dropout recovery program.  Rep. Lucio said that his bill would improve HB 3706 from the 85th Legislative Session and restore legislative intent.
  • HB 2879 (Raney, R-Bryan) would create a competitive grant program largely for medical providers to promote early literacy.
  • HB 2881 (Bernal, D-San Antonio) would add another option under last session’s SB 1882 for campuses labelled as “improvement required” by infusing new resources into the campus so that it may be designated a “resource campus.” Components of the program would include re-application of teachers to work at the campus; a 300:1 student-to-counselor ratio; assignment of an effective principal; social-emotional learning; restorative discipline; class-size limits; and an accountability pause.
  • HB 3009 (Talarico, D-Round Rock) would require TEA to advise school districts on civics training materials and resources for educators and add civics to the social studies description in the foundation curriculum. The bill would also require TEKS for civics instruction once in grades 4-8 and as part of at least one high school course. The bill would direct the SBOE as to what must be included as part of civics education and require school districts and charters who implement this curriculum to develop a project-based civics education course.
  • HB 3053 (Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio) would require school districts to adopt a “healthy and safe school water plan” that includes periodic lead testing and reducing exposure to lead in school water.
  • HB 3141 (Guillen, D-Rio Grande City) would require that the Commissioner administer the state (Virtual School Network) VSN in coordination with its administering authority and shift all costs for evaluation and approval to the administering authority. A committee substitute for the bill moves the authority from TEA to the University of Texas at Austin High School.
  • HB 3387 (Anchia, D-Dallas): This bill for Dallas County would abolish the dissolution committee established to abolish county boards of education or boards of county school trustees and transfer all duties and obligations of the committee to the commissioners court of the county.
  • HB 3628 (Goodwin, D-Austin) would require the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to establish a special education certification.
  • HB 3818 (Lozano, D-Kingsville) would create a work-based learning task force to develop strategies for expanding and delivering youth or adult apprenticeships or internships that provide paid work experience and corresponding classroom instruction.
  • HB 3836 (Bell, K., R-Forney) would require rather than allow school districts to consider using open educational resources.
  • HB 4270 (Wu, D-Houston) would allow a municipal management district to provide public education facilities as part of the long list of improvement projects or services they can provide.
  • HB 4342 (Clardy, R-Nacogdoches) 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 4480 (Meza, D-Irving) would require the commissioner to establish a task force to study the utility, efficacy, and feasibility of art therapy to improve the mental health of students in public and higher education.
  • HJR 112 (King, T., R-Uvalde) would allow Webb County to enter into an agreement with the school districts for which the county holds lands in trust.

On Wednesday, April 17, the House Public Education Committee will meet again to hear bills after the House chamber meets. The committee will also vote out several bills, so stay tuned!

House Public Education Committee hears 38 bills on charters, assessment, and discipline

On Tuesday, April 9, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard 38 bills, which were overwhelmingly related to charter schools. A few bills regarding accountability, assessment, and student discipline were also heard. The vast majority of charter schools bills focused on raising the transparency and accountability of charters and on creating parity between traditional districts and charters.

ATPE registered support for the following bills:

  • House Bill (HB) 43 (Hinojosa, et al., D-Austin): Would add “discipline history” to the list of prohibited factors a charter can take into account when accepting students and removes the ability of charters to exclude students with documented history of criminal offense, juvenile court adjudication, or discipline problems. Does allow charters with at least 75% students who are 18 years or older to provide for these exclusions.
  • HB 139 (González, M., D-Clint): Would require charters to provide notice of an expansion amendment to open a new campus just as is required for entirely new charters. The notice must be provided no later than 18 months before the campus opens and include geographic specificity.
  • HB 228 (Krause, R-Fort Worth): Would create new eligibility standards for districts to become a District of Innovation (DOI), including academic performance eligibility and financial eligibility, as determined by the commissioner. Requires that the DOI plan establish performance objectives for the district.
  • HB 570 (Capriglione, R-Southlake): Would require the governing bodies of charter holders and charter schools to hold each open meeting in the geographic area in which the charter served and to be broadcast over the Internet (these changes were made in a committee substitute).
  • HB 636 (White, R-Hillister): Applies to the disclosure of interested parties involved in contracts that require a vote by the governing body of the governmental entities or have a value of at least $1 million. Would include open-enrollment charters as governmental entities, just as public school districts are.
  • HB 1730 (Davis, Y., D-Dallas): Would require that new and expanded charter campuses be more than one mile from another open-enrollment charter campus, unless the other campus has been operating at maximum student enrollment described by their charter for at least the two preceding school years.
  • HB 1853 (Pacheco, D-San Antonio): Would require charters to hire certified educators and protect educator rights, including for principals.
  • HB 1981 (Cole, D-Austin): Would expand notification requirements to apply to charter expansion amendments and would require the notice to identify the closest public school campus to the charter.
  • HB 2487 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would make charters subject to the provision of Government Code chapter 617 regarding collective bargaining and strikes.
  • HB 2510 (Hinojosa, et al., D-Austin): Would require that charters post their code of conduct on their website and require it to include suspension policies. Requires that charter policies and procedures for suspension and expulsion comply with Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code and that suspensions not exceed three days.
  • HB 2621 (Bailes, R-Shepherd): Would create a common admission application form for charters and requires the commissioner to manage a waiting list. Each charter would be required to report to the commissioner information on enrollment and waiting list numbers. Would also require the commissioner to identify which charters are corporate affiliates or substantially related charters holders and aggregate this information, to be posted online with the aggregated enrollment and waiting list numbers reported from the charters.
  • HB 2760 (Allison, R-San Antonio): States that districts can submit a statement to the commissioner regarding the impact a new charter school or charter expansion will have on the district. The commissioner would be required to issue an impact report on the charter application that includes information related to how the charter will affect the community, educational availability and duplication, financial burden on district, cost to state, and the written statement aforementioned. The impact report will be made public on the TEA website and provided to the charter or applicant and the others who are to receive the currently required notice.
  • HB 2776 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Would require charters to prepare and submit to TEA an “informed choice report” that includes academic information, demographic information, their calendar, information on transportation and meals, information on extracurriculars and academic course offerings, parental requirements, rights, and responsibilities, teacher statistics including salary, number on the waiting list, admission criteria, discipline policies, rates of disciplinary action, if the school uses an online program, number of school counselors and nurses, and if students have access to a library.
  • HB 2824 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would extend Rep. VanDeaver’s writing pilot from the 84th session (HB 1164) through 2022-2023. This writing portfolio assessment tests the feasibility of replacing the current 26-line essay requirement. Would require the agency to develop methods to determine the validity of the scoring process. Rep. VanDeaver said that there were 30,000 students participating in Spring of 2018, and only 5-6 staff members in charge of the pilot at TEA.
  • HB 2964 (Davis, Y., D-Dallas): Would prohibit the employment of those who have engaged in misconduct that presents a risk to students, as documented by either a school district or the State Board for Educator Certification.
  • HB 2983 (Huberty, R-Humble): Would reduce the number of state-administered assessments for students who have already demonstrated mastery in certain subjects, potentially reducing tests from 17 to 10.
  • HB 2987 (Ramos, D-Richardson): Would require charters to post for each governing board member their biographical information, business interests, if they are elected or appointed, and the length of their service.
  • HB 3013 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): States that charters are subject to the law regarding the suspension of students and restricts the reasons charters can expel students only to Section 37.007 of the Texas Education Code.
  • HB 3069 (González, M., et al., D-Clint): Would require the commissioner to establish a professional development grant program to encourage teachers to obtain computer science certification and continue professional development in coding, computational thinking, and computer science education.
  • HB 3263 (Allen, D-Houston): Would protect charter school employees under the Whistleblower Act, just as school district employees are.
  • HB 3877 (Ramos, D-Richardson): Would require charter schools to post their financial statements through a clearly identifiable link that appears in a prominent place on their home page.
  • HB 4242 (Bernal, et al., D-San Antonio): Would require that state assessments be evaluated by an independent group of qualified educators with Texas teaching experience for readability. Requires the commissioner to hold a public hearing before determining the readability of the assessments and requires that the readability be released for each questions and passage along with the questions and answer keys (at the appropriate time). Requires the State Board of Education to review assessment instruments and places a one-year pause on accountability and testing until unless the readability standards are met. Requires the commissioner to request a federal waiver if standards are not met.

ATPE submitted  written, neutral testimony on Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Humble) HB 3904. HB 3904, in general, is a “clean-up” bill for last session’s HB 22, and aims to clarify and specify the law to match the original intent of the policy. The bill clarifies the treatment of dual credit as an accountability measure and adds in complete coherent industry certification course sequences, students who participate in extracurriculars, and ninth graders who are on track to graduate with their cohort. For K-8, the bill adds indicators accounting for students who participate in full-day pre-K, students who participate in math and literacy academies, and students who participate in extracurriculars. Importantly, the bill limits the domain performance ratings to be no more than 50% reliant on test scores. For the student achievement domain, 40% would be attributed assessments, 20% from high school graduation, and 40% from CCMR. The bill also makes changes to accountability for dropout recovery schools. Individual graduation committees are also continued in this bill.

ATPE did not support the provision in the original bill that allowed the commissioner to order reconstitution of a below-standard campus and implement “strategic staffing”, which was largely based on test performance-based measures of teachers. The Chairman has changed the bill in a committee substitute to eliminate this provision, which is great!

The following bills were also heard in committee:

  • HB 769 (Davis, S., et al., R-West University Place): Would require the board of trustees to receive approval from the commissioner for any severance payment to a superintendent who has been terminated based on malfeasance. Further requires that Foundation School Program funds may not be used to pay the severance and that no severance may be paid to a superintendent who has completed less than 51% of their contract. The committee substitute for the bill clarifies the definition of malfeasance and removes retroactive reporting.
  • HB 1003 (Collier, D-Fort Worth): Would create an admission preference for students who reside in the attendance zone of the school district within which the charter is located. Allows for a separate lottery for these students.
  • HB 1301 (Davis, S., R-West University Place): Would require school districts with enrollment of 10,000 or more to publish monthly web reports on board minutes, plans, and objectives, and quarterly reports on academic achievement and district finances. This bill is aimed at only affecting Houston ISD.
  • HB 2190 (Hunter, R-Corpus Christi): This bill only applies to a charter with an enrollment greater than 200 located in a county with less than 400,000 that contains a municipality of least 300,000 (aimed specifically at a Corpus Christi area school). Allows the charter to admit a child of a school employee. Testimony on the bill was positive and Hunter said that he would entertain the bill being statewide. Chairman Huberty said they could change the bill to impact the entire state as an amendment on the House floor.
  • HB 2406 (Geren, R-Fort Worth): States that a charter may not spend public funds for political advertising or for communications describing measures that are false or could influence voters. Brings parity to charters, as school districts are already subject to this law.
  • HB 2488 (Dutton, D-Houston): States that if a charter school has 5,000 or more students in average daily attendance, it is considered to be a state agency for purposes of Chapter 2161 of the Government Code regarding Historically Underutilized Business (HUB). Just as school districts do, charters would have to comply with provisions regarding HUBs, which would include a commitment to increasing contracting opportunities with these businesses.
  • HB 2991 (Talarico, D-Round Rock): Would require, rather than allow, districts and charters to develop and implement a positive behavior and restorative justice program. Through the program, the district or school can provide an alternative to suspension. Creates, in Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code, a restorative justice coordinating council to assist the agency and school districts in developing restorative justice programs and training.
  • HB 3012 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): 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), and that at least one option should not require the use of the internet. The committee substitute for this bill reduces this requirement to only apply to core courses and states that the instruction doesn’t have to be in-person.
  • HB 3155 (Deshotel, D-Beaumont): Would require municipalities to regard charters as school districts for purposes of zoning, permitting, code compliance, and development. Also applies land development standards to charters. Would prohibit municipalities, counties, or political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits a charter school from operation.
  • HB 3219 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Would allow campus behavior coordinators to create behavior contracts for students who violate the code of conduct and require their parent to sign the contract as a condition of not taking immediate action against the student.
  • HB 3322 (Burns, R-Cleburne): Would require school districts to post who is responsible for discipline on their website. According to testimony, the bill arose out of a town hall by Senator Kolkhorst.
  • HB 3398 (Johnson, Jarvis, D-Houston): Would require the TEA committee responsible for reviewing accountability appeals to review the challenges by school districts or charters. Requires that the commissioner not limit the challenge if the school district or charter created the inaccuracy and requires that the commissioner correct the rating if the rating assigned was too low.
  • HB 3861 (Bohac, R-Houston): Would allow districts who have been granted program charters by their board and who have contracted with a charter to jointly operate the campus and receive district-charter funding under last session’s SB 1882. Rep. Bohac said that this would only affect Spring Branch ISD and Aldine ISD in the Houston area, as these districts already have such program charters.
  • HB 3941 (Deshotel, D-Beaumont): Would require TEA to develop a process for providers to apply for the authority to operate an online adult high school diploma from for eligible students. Student must reside in Texas, be 19 or older, have been unable to satisfy high school graduation requirements at the normal time, have been unable to meet the graduation requirements of any other program, and meet any other requirements as set out by the commissioner.
  • HB 4209 (Davis, Y., D-Dallas): Would require that charter governing board members are elected and that their terms do not exceed four years. Parents of students enrolled would be able to vote. Rep. Davis said that the bill will be revised.

The Committee will meet again this Thursday for a formal meeting just to vote out bills that have been heard by the Committee so far. Chairman Huberty stated at the end of the hearing that most of the controversial bills have been heard now, but that nearly 600 bills have been referred to them. There are still several weeks of session to go and many more important bill topics to cover! Stay tuned.

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.

ATPE and others testify on school finance commission recommendations

This week, the House Public Education Committee received feedback from various stakeholders regarding recommendations of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Tuesday and Wednesday, committee members heard testimony from panels including three former House Public Education Committee chairs, superintendents, trustees, teachers, and representatives of education associations. Rural, suburban, and urban districts were represented, as well as charter and traditional public schools.

The overwhelming majority of testifiers expressed support for the commission’s recommended increase in the spectrum weight and the dual language weight. These would help create equity by funding certain student populations at higher levels. Most witnesses also commended the commission’s recommendation to fund early childhood education, but were concerned with its sustainability and with tying it to third-grade reading scores.

Among the concerns commonly expressed by stakeholders was outcomes-based funding. District leaders said they would like  local flexibility in implementing merit-based, outcomes-based, or performance-based funding mechanisms for their teachers. Apprehension with outcomes-based funding derived from mistrust or lack of confidence in the current assessment system’s ability to accurately capture student learning. In fact, an equal proportion of Tuesday’s discussions seemed to focus on assessment as on school finance. Some leaders expressed that tying funding to tests would reinforce teaching-to-the-test, and some stakeholders suggested that base teacher pay be addressed before additional incentive mechanisms.

Stakeholders representing small and midsize districts (up to 5,000 students) also expressed concern with the commission’s recommendation to move the small and midsize funding adjustment out of formula, which could alter funding to these special student populations, affecting the districts’ ability to meet federal obligations for financial maintenance of effort under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Overall, stakeholders also expressed concerns with any funding changes that were not part of the base formula, given that similar funding approaches in the past have been less reliable. An example cited was Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) funding under House Bill (HB) 4 of 2015, which created an optional grant program should districts decide to offer high-quality Pre-K. Another potential funding change discussed this week was the Cost of Education Index (CEI). While some testified that they were uncomfortable with the idea of the CEI being eliminated, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) reiterated his intent for definite removal of the CEI in any school finance overhaul this session.

While this week’s testimony nearly always touched on teacher compensation, an important aspect of teaching beyond pay arose in the conversations: mentoring. A few witnesses expressed that the best first-year investment is a mentor teacher and that having mentor teachers is another way to provide extra compensation. Special education is another topic that came up during the hours of testimony, even though it was not widely broached by the commission last year other than through a discussion of funding for dyslexia. In testimony, several special education advocates suggested revamping the way special education is funded, which is currently done by placement rather than services. Chairman Huberty was favorable to the ideas presented.

Monty Exter

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, was last to testify Wednesday evening. He shared that ATPE supports the commission’s recommended changes to the weights, local flexibility in spending weighted dollars, and increases to the basic allotment. He expressed concerns with outcomes-based funding and suggested an adequate base increase for teachers and others on the education team first. Exter also offered that inputs should be incentivized as well, in a similar way to how high-quality Pre-K was incentivized through the HB 4 grant program. Lastly, Exter testified that teacher quality is related to educator preparation, another topic that cannot be forgotten when discussing increasing teacher effectiveness.

Senate Education committee holds first meeting

Senate Education Committee meeting Feb. 7, 2019.

The Senate Committee on Education held its first meeting of the 86th Legislative Session on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, at the Texas Capitol. The committee’s chairman, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) kicked off the meeting by welcoming members to “Season Three, Episode One” of his tenure as the committee chair, and introduced new and returning committee members.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath provided high-level testimony on the “State of the State of Public Education” report produced by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). This report focuses on demographics, challenges, and progress toward the state’s “60×30” goal of ensuring 60 percent of students graduate high school with an industry certification or post-secondary credential by the year 2030. Commissioner Morath again stressed the importance of recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in order to achieve this goal.

The commissioner also walked members through the current “A through F” accountability system, which is largely based upon different calculations of STAAR test results. Related to that, the commissioner explained efforts to develop STAAR test questions aligned to student expectations. Morath discussed the negative impact of poverty on student learning, which prompted comments by the vice chairman, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), on related factors such as hunger. Both have a direct impact on the cost to educate a child.

In acknowledging criticisms of the STAAR test, including the high stakes attached to it, Commissioner Morath suggested the test could be broken into multiple, shorter sessions, or move away from multiple-choice answers. The commissioner noted that either could pose problems with regard to legal requirements and the time and money necessary for development.

TEA’s State Director for Special Education Justin Porter followed up with a briefing on special education, beginning with enrollment numbers. The agency documented a sharp decline in special education enrollment around 2004. Enrollment has increased in recent years, which coincides with corrective action the agency was forced to take after an investigation revealed the agency had been illegally implementing a de facto cap on enrollment. Despite the current upward trajectory, special education enrollment remains significantly below the national average.

Under the current accountability system, special education students are performing “significantly behind” their non-special education peers. Porter suggested this potentially could be ameliorated by changes to the current college, career, and military readiness (CCM-R) indicators.

The majority of Porter’s testimony focused on the strategic plan put in place as a result of the corrective action order. Under federal pressure, the agency has increased monitoring activities and identifying areas of noncompliance and improvement. Under federal law, all students have a right to a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE), and TEA has made efforts to inform local education agencies (LEAs) of their responsibilities. The agency is also hiring a contractor to launch a statewide media campaign to provide information about special education and parents’ rights. Sens. Royce West (D-Dallas) and Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) asked questions regarding the marketing program, including the total cost and whether districts and stakeholder groups had been recruited into the process.

Porter indicated there is also a shortage in evaluation personnel, which has resulted in many LEAs paying for contract personnel. The agency has responded with a $10 million grant to Education Service Center (ESC) 20 in San Antonio to provide services and reimbursements to LEAs without access to evaluators.

In addition, the agency has focused on professional development geared toward administrators and general education teachers, as well as training for school board members. The agency has also set up a call center to answer questions related to special education.

House releases public education recommendations

The House Committee on Public Education issued its interim report this month, which serves as a summary of testimony taken during the interim and includes a set of recommendations for the 86th Texas Legislature to take up.

The 88-page report addresses the response to Hurricane Harvey, teacher compensation, student assessment, students with disabilities, charter schools, implementation of legislation passed by the 85th Texas Legislature, educator preparation programs, and school safety.

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) thanked members of the committee for their work, noting, “the extraordinary events that occurred since the last session adjourned spurred members to delve deeply into what some may view as difficult topics without the time constraints of a legislative session.”

Hurricane Harvey

Recommendations include making local education agencies (LEA) whole for financial losses due to enrollment changes, property value decline, and facility damage. The report suggests the committee consider possible legislation to help schools quickly access replacement instructional materials, provide timely assistance to Chapter 42 districts that experience facility damage, and improve the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) dropout calculation methodology.

Teacher Compensation

Recommendations include creating an additional certification for teachers in leadership positions, such as “Master Teachers,” to allow for career growth without having to leave the classroom and move to administration. The committee also recommends creating new allotments through the Foundation School Program (FSP) to fund mentoring programs and to provide differentiated compensation plans. The report specifies:

TEA should create at least two compensation plan options for use by LEAs that do not have the capacity or desire to develop their own version. While LEAs should be allowed the flexibility to create programs that benefit their own particular circumstances, locally-designed programs should be required to include the following components:

1. a multiple measure evaluation system, such as the state-developed Texas Teacher
Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS);
2. incentives to encourage top performing teachers to work at campuses with the highest
need students;
3. a requirement for top performing teachers to serve as mentors and that at least first and
second year teachers are assigned a mentor; and
4. stipends for teachers or teacher candidates that participate in additional, rigorous training
such as clinical residency programs or the National Board-certification process.

Student Assessment 

Recommendations include supporting efforts by the State Board of Education (SBOE) to streamline the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), limiting STAAR to readiness standards, making individual graduation committees (IGC) for students who have difficulties with the STAAR permanently available, eliminating high stakes testing for elementary and middle school students, splitting the STAAR in early grades into subtests scheduled on separate days, and providing funding to continue the Writing Assessment Pilot Program.

Students with Disabilities

Recommendations include monitoring TEA implementation of the corrective action plan and Strategic Plan for Special Education, providing additional funding for dyslexia identification and instruction, monitoring for the potential negative impact of changes under the Student Health and Related Services (SHARS) program, and extending funding for dyslexia and autism pilot programs.

Charter Schools 

Recommendations include requiring expansion amendment requests for additional campuses or sites to be sent to TEA and notice given to districts at least a year before a new campus is openened, ensuring uniformity among which district officials receive expansion amendment notifications, reconsidering current laws that allow charters to exclude students based on disciplinary history, ensuring charters have the ability to fulfill their responsibilities towards students with disabilities before authorization, reducing funding disparities between charters and traditional school districts, and expanding the Texas Partnership program.

Implementation of Legislation 

The report focuses on the implementation of anti-cyberbullying legislation under House Bill (HB) 179, known as David’s Law, and to changes to the accountability system under HB 22. Regarding the accountability system, recommendations include monitoring the inclusion of extra- and co-curricular indicators and local accountability systems, revisiting certain college, career, and military readiness (CCMR) indicators, exploring options to alleviate timing issues that exist with regard to the accountability system and rulemaking, and including additional funding to cover the costs of federally-mandated SAT and ACT assessments for certain students.

Educator Preparation Programs

Recommendations include monitoring TEA implementation of the educator preparation program (EPP) data dashboard, collecting disaggregated longitudinal data on student outcomes of teachers by EPP, and incentivizing EPP partnerships that provide affordable options to gain additional credentials and certifications.

School Safety

In response to the deadly school shootings in Santa Fe, Texas, and elsewhere, the committee’s report includes four pages of recommendations regarding school safety. The recommendations are broken in subcategories covering mental health and well-being, school mental health professionals, school safety planning and training, school safety infrastructure, law enforcement resources, and charter school specific issues.

These recommendations are expected to become the basis of major bills that move through the House Public Education Committee this session. Under new House rules adopted Wednesday, the committee will expand to 13 members from 11. The committee’s chair and membership for this session will be assigned by newly-elected Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). The full interim report can be accessed here.