Tag Archives: readability study

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 28, 2020

Today is the last day of early voting in Texas! Whether you’ve already had your close-up with the ballot box or plan to vote on March 3, catch up on the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Today, Feb. 28, is the last day of early voting. Voter turnout has been steady in the state’s largest counties. Texas’ primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020. For the latest news on races in Texas, check out ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’ “election roundup” blog post.

If you haven’t made it to the polls yet, we’re bringing it back to basics to get you vote-ready.

    • WHO? Visual learner? Watch this video to learn how to view candidate profiles on Teach the Vote, which include responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, encourage them to contact ATPE Governmental Relations for additional details. It’s not too late!
    • WHAT? We’ve received many questions about the party-based, non-binding propositions that are on your primary ballot. Learn more about these philosophical statements proposed by the state’s Democratic and Republican parties in this Teach the Vote blog post. These measures won’t change the law, but they help state party leaders learn more about their voters’ opinions on key issues.
    • WHERE? Use Vote411.org to find your polling location and build a customized ballot that you can print out and take with you to the polls. (You won’t be able to use your phone inside the voting booth.)
    • WHEN? Today or March 3! Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to view an election countdown, get text reminders, and find additional election-related resources created for educators.
    • WHY? Did you know that some races are determined entirely by the primaries? Read more about why it is important to vote in the primaries in Part I and Part II of Teach the Vote’s “Primary Colors” blog series.
    • HOW? Get the scoop on how to vote, including guidance on new balloting systems in use in many polling places. Click here for tips!

Want even more? Read all the fantastic election features in our latest issue of ATPE News for Spring 2020 and find additional election reminders and tips on ATPE’s main blog at atpe.org. As you’re researching candidates and building your ballot, check out video of the recent candidate forums conducted around the state by Raise Your Hand Texas to learn more about the candidates’ views on public education.


FEDERAL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has released the federal teacher shortage areas for Texas in 2020-21, which are largely consistent with those listed in 2018-19 and 2019-20. These include Pre-K-12 bilingual education, special education, and computer science, plus 7-12 career and technical education and mathematics. Since 2019-20, computer science as a shortage area has been expanded from only at the secondary level to covering all grades, likely reflecting career and technical needs across the country in our changing economy. The nationwide teacher shortage areas have implications for federal loan forgiveness and deferment options.

On Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sat before the U.S. House Appropriations education, health, and labor subcommittee to defend President Donald Trump’s education budget proposal, which we wrote about here on Teach the Vote. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reports that members of Congress questioned the secretary on several issues, including spending and scandals associated with charter schools, discipline practices for vulnerable students, concerns about child vaping, and the mechanics of the proposed consolidation of 29 federal programs into one block grant. Secretary DeVos defended much of the proposal by stating that the department’s intent is to give more spending freedom and flexibility to states.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Feb. 27, 2020 (Source).

Much of the hearing was devoted to criticism and defense of the proposed “Education Freedom Scholarships” and the civil rights risk associated with the department’s lack of commitment to ensuring non-discrimination. DeVos insisted that, because the scholarship program would be administered through the U.S. Department of Treasury, the voucher-like tax credit was not federal funding. This would free the program from being tied to federal protections for students such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and it seemed apparent that many committee members understood this impact. View video of the hearing here.


The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) conducted a survey of Texas public school districts on salaries during the fall of the 2019-20 school year. Just under half (49%) of districts responded, representing 84% of the estimated teacher population in Texas. According to respondents, the median starting salary for a new teacher is $44,000. This increase of 7.3% from 2018-19 is largely due to the passage of House Bill (HB) 3 and represents a one-time bump in salaries unless the Texas legislature increases the public school basic allotment again. A similar superintendent survey conducted by TASB showed a 3.1% increase in the average superintendent’s salary from 2018-19. See the full TASB teacher compensation survey for more information, including stipend trends and substitute pay. In both surveys, educators who work in larger districts were shown to receive higher pay.


In December 2019, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reviewed Part I of a recent readability study of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Mandated by the Legislature as part of last year’s House Bill (HB) 3, the findings in Part I left many questions unanswered. Chevalier reports that with the recent release of Part II, the study is now complete, but it still leaves us wondering if STAAR tests are written at the appropriate grade-level, as the results are mostly the same as in Part I.

Using 2020 STAAR assessments, researchers found that 99.5% of test items were aligned to the TEKS curriculum standards. As in Part I, researchers could not answer if items were at a grade-appropriate readability level due to a lack of confidence in methods and analysis. Lastly, the passage readability results were mixed, with researchers reporting multiple methods of analysis that lead to different conclusions.

Because this non-peer-reviewed study is entirely inconclusive on item readability and presents unclear results on passage readability, many questions remain as to the appropriateness of the use of STAAR in high-stakes decisions. As noted by Chevalier, if a student cannot understand a question because it uses vocabulary outside the scope of the student’s common knowledge, the child cannot be expected to answer it correctly.


Texas Senate Finance committee meets Feb. 25, 2020

The Senate Finance Committee met in Austin this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that among other agenda items, the interim hearing included a review of the investment strategies and performance of funds invested through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), the Permanent School Fund, and university funds. The committee has been charged during the interim with making recommendations to better coordinate and leverage Texas’ purchasing power to maximize investment income for the state.

The committee also added to its agenda an examination of the long-term facility plans of TRS, including specifically examining the facility space costs of housing TRS’s Investment Management Division. TRS Executive director Brian Guthrie delivered two presentations to the board: the first on TRS investment strategies and the second on long-term space planning for the agency.


STAAR readability study, part one, released

Yesterday, the University of Texas at Austin Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk released part one of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) readability study required by the 86th Legislature’s House Bill (HB) 3. The mandated study follows numerous reports that STAAR test items were above the reading level of students taking the test, such as this peer-reviewed study by Texas A&M University-Commerce researchers.

Here are the three main questions of the study and the answers gathered by its authors:

Question 1: Are the items on the 2019 STAAR tests (and the tests as a whole) aligned to grade-level Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)?

Answer: The TEKS that each test item is precoded to match are mostly in alignment. Across all 17 tests analyzed, eight questions were not in alignment, which means that the question did not adequately assess the standards it was meant to address. As for the test as a whole, all questions were found to be in alignment with grade-level TEKS.

Question 2: Are the items on the tests at a grade-appropriate readability level?

Answer: Due to a lack of research in the area, the authors used several different methods to try to measure the readability of each test item. For each method, the researchers obtained different results, which meant that none of the methods were reliable indicators of readability. Therefore, the study is inconclusive about the grade-level readability of test items and provides no further insight in this area. Because parents and advocates have expressed concerns with the readability of mathematics test items, this lack of findings is rather unsatisfying.

Question 3: Are the passages on the reading and writing tests at a grade-appropriate readability level?

Answer: The authors developed their own “test” to determine if a passage was grade-level appropriate in readability. In order to pass the test, each passage had to meet two out of three measures: sentence length and difficulty, syntactic simplicity or “syntax,” and vocabulary load or “narrativity.” For syntax and narrativity, the authors used a measure called “Coh-Metrix” that can either be based on English/Language Arts (ELA) norms or social studies norms, depending on the genre of the text.

While many passages met grade-level for sentence length/difficulty and syntax, only 31% of passages fell within or below the specified grade band for narrativity when using the ELA norms. However, because each passage only had to meet two out of the three criteria, 86% of writing and reading passages were found to be grade-appropriate. Additionally, the authors stipulate that the passages are more of the informational genre and thus could be evaluated using the social studies norms, which produces higher readability results, yet still comparatively low in the narrativity index.

What’s next?

This study leaves many questions unanswered. Is it acceptable that some test items are not correctly aligned to the TEKS? Are the STAAR test items, such as those on the mathematics tests, at the appropriate readability level? Is the 2/3 criteria test valid when it allows for narrativity to slip through the cracks? Is it good practice to allow for the majority of a test to use vocabulary that is outside the scope of commonly used language for a particular grade level?

The second part of this legislatively mandated study should surface by February 1, 2020. Stay tuned to ATPE’s Teach the Vote as we track the implementation of this important provision in HB 3. Read more about changes to student testing that resulted from the 2019 legislative session here and here on our blog.

House Public Education Committee gets an update on accountability, school finance bills

House Public Education Committee interim hearing, Oct. 28, 2019.

The House Public Education Committee met on Monday, Oct. 28, to hear an update on legislation from the 85th and 86th legislative sessions and testimony from panels of invited witnesses.

The interim hearing began with an overview from Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath on public school accountability. Specifically, the committee heard about House Bill (HB) 22 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) passed by the 85th Texas Legislature in 2017. That bill shrank the accountability system from five to three domains. HB 22 also created a distinction between campus and district accountability “grades” of “D” and “F,” such that a rating of “D” would represent a “needs improvement” condition rather than a “failing” status. As the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has implemented HB 22, several problematic scenarios have emerged due to multiple interpretations of the law.

One such scenario pertaining to the timeline for accountability sanctions and interventions has left districts wondering where they stand and waiting for guidance in the form of commissioner’s rules or clarifying legislation next session. Specially, does a “D” rating break up a series of “F” ratings in a manner that would restart the clock for purposes of determining required interventions? Since HB 22 is slated to take full effect in the 2020-21 school year, legislators and TEA officials are facing pressure to find a solution, such as delaying the adoption of rules, for districts grappling with questions like these. Commissioner Morath told the committee on Monday that he will be reaching out to affected districts to try to provide guidance.

Due to issues like these, we can probably expect another accountability clean-up bill to be filed in the 2021 legislative session. The commissioner suggested two statutory changes that may help alleviate the problems. The first is to eliminate required interventions for failure in a domain grade, leaving mandatory interventions in place based on a district’s or campus’s overall grade. The second suggestion is to change the “D” rating so that it continues to advance the intervention clock but would not require school closure or the appointment of a Board of Managers unless performance falls to an “F” and no less than six years have elapsed.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath

Commissioner Morath also gave the committee an update on the local accountability system pilot, which allows school districts to use additional indicators that their communities find important. Nineteen districts participated in the 2017-18 pilot year and submitted pilot data. The commissioner identified three big challenges that districts faced when creating their systems: would the local accountability system produce 1) reliable results over time, 2) results that accurately measure a desired result, and 3) a reasonable accountability score that was “calibrated” with the state accountability system. The commissioner stated that these challenges were used as the criteria against which districts were rated in determining whether to approve their local accountability system.

Ultimately, only two districts, Dallas ISD and Snyder ISD, had their local accountability systems approved by the commissioner, which prompted committee members to raise concerns during Monday’s hearing. One superintendent who testified during the hearing stated that his district’s application was denied because, according to the TEA, the district had focused too much on “adult behavior” inputs that were not directly measured using student achievement data. The superintendent gave the example of using incentives to increase the use of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) as part of its local accountability system proposal. ATPE has long advocated for including inputs in the accountability system, such as ensuring that students are taught by educators who are certified in the subjects and grade levels they are teaching. We believe that such measures are more directly controllable by districts and individual educators than other factors and typically lead to better student outcomes. During Monday’s committee meeting, a panel of school superintendents and other public education advocates also gave feedback on implementation of the state’s accountability system, similarly expressing a desire for the inclusion of inputs related to such “adult behaviors.” They also recommended enabling the state accountability system to be more nuanced to account for the correlation between poverty and student tests scores, and they advocated for delaying the adoption of commissioner’s rules until the HB 22 implementation issues can be cleared up with legislation in 2021.

The committee also received an update from the commissioner on the implementation of HB 3, the school finance overhaul bill passed during the 86th session of 2019. Commissioner Morath stated that there was a $635 average increase in per pupil funding as a result of the bill, and he plugged TEA’s “HB 3 in 30” video series, which offers in-depth explanations of various aspects of HB 3. Other updates were given to the committee on the following:

  • The STAAR readability study required by HB 3 is being conducted by the University of Texas at Austin. An initial report is due to the legislature by Dec. 1, 2019, and a second portion of the report is expected by Feb. 1, 2020. The commissioner told the committee that if the study concludes that changes to the test are needed, then those will be made.
  • The commissioner shared that TEA plans to collect data on pay raises resulting from HB 3 starting sometime near January 2020. A report to the legislature would then be expected by March 2020.
  • There has been a 56% growth in students receiving special education services over the past three years, which could reflect more students being identified as having dyslexia.
  • The committee discussed unintended funding consequences for fast-growth school districts and career and technical education (CTE) funding in small/mid-sized districts as a result of HB 3’s changes.

Another panel of public education advocates and practitioners gave feedback on the implementation of HB 3, telling the committee members that more clarity is needed on aspects of the legislation, such as its incentive pay program and related merit designations for teachers. Some panelists expressed concern about the sustainability and mechanisms of funding under the bill, such as outcomes-based funding in which money for one group of students is based on the performance of a previous group of students. As the rulemaking process for implementing HB 3 continues, ATPE will monitor TEA’s interpretation of these concerns.

At the end of Monday’s hearing, Chairman Huberty stated that he did not anticipate any more House Public Education Committee hearings this year. Stay tuned into our blog and keep up-to-date with legislative developments by following ATPE’s lobby team on Twitter via @TeachtheVote, @ATPE_JenniferM, @ATPE_MontyE, @ATPE_AndreaC, and @MarkWigginsTX.

Commissioner Morath updates SBOE on reading academies, accountability

Commissioner Mike Morath addresses the SBOE, Sept. 13, 2019.

Today, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath addressed the State Board of Education (SBOE) during its third and final day of meetings this week. The Commissioner’s presentation began with changes that K-3 teachers will soon see regarding reading academies.

As required by House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Huberty (R-Kingwood), all teachers and principals of students in grades K-3 must have attended a “literacy achievement academy” by the 2021-22 school year. Based on recent “To the Administrator Addressed” (TAA) correspondence on reading academies, the Texas Education Agency’s latest “HB 3 in 30” video on reading practices, and the commissioner’s presentation to the SBOE today, it seems that the terms “reading academy” and “literacy academy” are being used interchangeably.

The commissioner explained today that, because this requirement will impact over 120,000 educators, the structure of reading academies will have to change. Current reading academies are essentially a year-long fellowship that include a 5-day summer workshop, three two-day professional development sessions, a three-day workshop after the school year, and continuous embedded coaching throughout the school year. A new blended (online modules) reading academy structure will be added that will have fewer days of professional development and coaching. Additionally, a new function will allow some educators to “test out” of the reading academy, and districts will be able to offer their own modified version of the reading academy. Commissioner Morath stated that this will reduce or eliminate the increased cost associated with this new mandate under HB 3.

At today’s meeting, the commissioner also addressed the 2019 accountability ratings, demonstrated the use of the txschools.gov accountability website, and showed SBOE members a new TEKS guide website. He announced that the advisory committees for HB 3 and HB 3906 will be posted this month (September). Lastly, Commissioner Morath informed the board that the STAAR readability study also included in HB 3 will be conducted with the assistance of the University of Texas at Austin and is due December 1, 2019.

Be sure to read ATPE’s blog series “New School Year, New Laws” every Monday for updates on new laws impacting education, including HB 3. Also, check out the great new resource that ATPE’s legal staff has created to advise educators on new laws: “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature.” Download your copy of the guide here.

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.