Tag Archives: assessments

House committee looks at testing, special ed issues

The House Committee on Public Education met Thursday morning at the Texas Capitol to discuss interim charges related to testing and special education. The interim charges are assigned by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) and are generally composed of a detailed list of topics for each standing committee to research and discuss before the next legislative session. The following charges were on Thursday’s agenda:

  • Examine research-based options for evaluating student achievement beyond standardized test scores, including adaptive and portfolio assessments. Examine the scope of the current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)in grades with the state assessment, including the format, assessment calendar, and the limits of instructional days, if any. Determine if it is appropriate to limit TEKS to readiness standards that can be taught in less than the school year. Review current Student Success Initiative testing and make recommendations on its continuation or repeal. Review the ability of the state to waive standardized testing for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
  • Examine programs in public schools that have proven results meeting the needs of and improving student achievement for students with disabilities, with an emphasis on programs specializing in autism, dysgraphia, and dyslexia. Recommend ways to support and scale innovative programs for these students, including providing supplemental services, or incentivizing public-private partnerships or inter district and charter school collaborations. Monitor the implementation and funding for the pilot programs authorized in H.B. 21 (85R) and review the Texas Education Agency’s compliance with S.B. 160 (85R), which prohibits special education student caps.

After updating the committee on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) response to the Santa Fe school shooting and recent STAAR test glitches, Commissioner Mike Morath began his testimony by summarizing the overall design of the STAAR test and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) upon which tests are based. Morath pointed to one idea, splitting the STAAR test into sections to allow more flexible scheduling, that he suggested may require legislative guidance before ordering further agency research.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 24, 2018.

Members of the committee raised questions about the writing test, in particular with regard to grading methods. Morath indicated that a writing program created as a result of legislation by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) has yielded useful information, and noted that additional appropriation to continue the program would be a positive step.

Rep. VanDeaver asked Morath how much money could be saved by eliminating standardized tests that are required by the state, but not by federal law. House Bill (HB) 515 filed by VanDeaver during the 2017 legislative session would have eliminated tests not mandated under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and was estimated to result in a savings of $7 million. The bill was ultimately unsuccessful.

Other invited testimony included a panel of superintendents who testified to the overreliance on standardized tests for everything from student advancement to school accountability. Granger ISD Superintendent Randy Willis asked the committee to consider eliminating a single summative assessment at the end of the year in favor of multiple formative assessments and reducing the number of assessed standards. Doug Williams, Superintendent of Sunnyvale ISD, voiced support for dividing the STAAR into sections, ongoing diagnostic assessments, and making substantial changes to the writing portion of the exam. Part of the panel discussion touched on allowing teachers to directly grade writing exams, in other to provide better feedback and analysis.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the committee on the specificity of the TEKS, teaching versus testing, and corollary applications to the teacher pipeline. Other public testimony focused on portfolio assessments, such as rubrics developed by the New York Performance Standards Consortium.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before House Public Education Committee May 24, 2018.

After a brief break, the committee turned its focus to special education. TEA Deputy Commissioner Penny Schwinn walked members through the corrective action plan prepared by the agency to address the de facto cap on special education enrollment that resulted in a federal rebuke. Schwinn emphasized that current and future guidance indicates students with dyslexia should not be arbitrarily confined to Section 504 programs, but may qualify for special education services depending on the individual.

A number of advocacy organizations were invited to testify regarding the agency’s actions. Among the concerns raised by special education advocates was the timeline for implementation. Chris Masey with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities presented the dichotomy between progress at the policy level and frustration felt by parents looking for meaningful results. Masey also noted there hasn’t exactly been a surge in special education enrollment after the cap was lifted. Heather Sheffield with Decoding Dyslexia suggested policymakers explore a way to enforce the Dyslexia Handbook developed by TEA.

Additionally, advocates asked for per-pupil funding for dyslexia, as well as having adequate instructional time and funding for both training and staffing. One advocate testified that training alone for a special education teacher can top $5,000. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter thanked the committee for the work done last session to address the cap, as well as funding weights for special education. Exter drew the committee’s attention to districts’ ability to provide external services already. While therapeutic and educational services are both available, the primary focus of special education should be on educational services, and any therapeutic services covered by district or state funds should be in furtherance of the educational objectives.

Federal Update: ESSA implementation and school nutrition

ThinkstockPhotos-97653570-USCapThis week the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held the third of its six expected hearings aimed at monitoring implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The hearing was focused on gathering input from stakeholders on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) handling of implementation of the new law.

The invited panel of testifiers represented teachers, state and local education agencies, the civil rights community, academia, and parents and other advocates. The vast majority of the hearing was focused on ED’s proposed “supplement not supplant” rule, which is based on language in law that says states cannot use federal money to replace money that would otherwise be spent by the state. (As a reminder, ED turned to a process known as negotiated rulemaking to write rules for the “supplement not supplant” and assessment language in ESSA. The committee assembled for this process was only able to agree on the assessment piece, leaving “supplement not supplant” rule language in the hands of ED. Catch up here.) While the language seeks to provide equity among Title 1 and non-Title 1 schools through a dollar-to-dollar comparison, the panelists cited numerous unintended consequences that could be caused by the proposal as written, such as altering teacher hiring practices and placing burdensome requirements on schools and districts.

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The issue of “supplement not supplant” is an ongoing issue that is sure to remain a hot topic in Washington, D.C.. Last week, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the nonpartisan research and analysis arm of the U.S. Congress, released a report that concluded the language initially proposed by ED could set up a legal challenge based on limited statutory authority. Republican education leaders in Congress were quick to praise the report while ED defended its rule saying it had an obligation to provide clarity where the law is silent. There is agreement from some stakeholders that clarity is needed. A group of over 600 educators teaching in Title 1 schools sent a letter to ED last week that expressed the need for strong and fair regulations on the issue. That letter follows two other recent support letters sent to the department from a group of nine Democratic senators and a host of civil rights groups.

ED also announced yesterday that rule proposals pertaining to the innovative assessments pilot and accountability portions of the new ESSA law would be released in July and June, respectively.

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In the other chamber of Congress, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce was focused this week on a bill to reauthorize the national school lunch program. The committee held a mark up Wednesday on H.R. 5003, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016. The bill was ultimately voted out of committee by a vote of 20-14, but not without debate in and outside of the Capitol. On Tuesday, the day prior to the hearing, a substitute bill was unveiled that included a block grant pilot program for three states. The addition, which was pushed by conservative lawmakers and advocates, has critics concerned it’s a first step in cutting federal funding and participation in school nutrition programs.

While the program does include some positive aspects, such as more money for school breakfasts, it also limits a program that allows some schools to provide universal free meals to students. The Senate Agriculture Committee has already passed its version of the reauthorization bill; the Senate version represents a compromise between advocates, lawmakers, and the administration.

More will unfold on both issues. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these federal topics and more.