Testing and accountability
During the interim prior to the 80th legislative session, ATPE commissioned a study on teacher and parent perceptions of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests. The study’s conclusions echoed widespread sentiment that placing so much emphasis on a single test was detrimental to the school learning and working environment. The Legislature responded by filing several bills during the 80th legislative session relating to multiple criteria and the use of end-of-course assessments, including Senate Bill (SB) 1031 by Senate Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro (R–Plano). SB 1031 called for replacing TAKS at the high school level with end-of-course (EOC) exams (now known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STARR).). The Legislature also created the Select Committee on Public School Accountability, which was tasked with reviewing the accountability system and making improvement recommendations to the Legislature. The committee spent much of the interim between the 80th and 81st Legislatures holding hearings with testimony from expert witnesses and the general public in various cities across Texas. ATPE gave input and recommendations to the committee based on the 2008 ATPE Teacher Quality Study, conducted by noted University of Texas researcher Dr. Edward J. Fuller.
Heading into the 81st legislative session, revising the state’s public school accountability system was a high priority. The Select Committee on Public School Accountability’s findings during the interim helped shape bills aimed at overhauling the accountability system filed in both the House and Senate. House Bill (HB) 3 was filed by House Public Education Committee Chair Rep. Rob Eissler (R–The Woodlands). SB 3 was filed by Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Florence Shapiro (R–Plano). Both bills called for sweeping changes, including using student achievement growth as a component in the determination of accountability ratings, using end-of-course exams to measure college readiness, and replacing current accountability ratings with an accreditation system for both campuses and districts. But the bills also contained distinct differences.
During the session, sitting ATPE State President Jerry Bonham appeared before both the Senate Education Committee and House Public Education Committee to share ATPE’s input on the proposed changes. Bonham’s testimony focused primarily on the results the ATPE Teacher Quality Study, which found a direct relationship between teacher quality and student achievement on standardized tests. The hope was that an overhaul of the system would encompass the study’s recommendations, which included the following:
- The provision of monetary and nonmonetary incentives for the most qualified teachers to teach in schools serving students with the most academic needs for extended periods of time.
- A redesign of incentive-pay programs to require a greater percentage of funds to be directed toward placing and retaining well-qualified teachers in high-need schools.
- The creation of monetary and nonmonetary incentives for teacher preparation programs to produce the teachers we need the most—secondary mathematics and science teachers.
- The complete funding of mentoring and induction programs with a proven track record for all beginning teachers in high-need schools.
- The implementation of a statewide working conditions survey that could be used by school and district administrators to identify and improve schools with poor working conditions.
- The creation of smaller class sizes or reduced teacher workloads.
Unfortunately, the committees did not incorporate these recommendations into the accountability bills before sending them to their respective chambers’ floors for consideration. However, Rep. Mike Villarreal (D–San Antonio) added a floor amendment to the House version of the bill requiring campus intervention teams to include the teacher quality principles outlined in the study in their assessments of low-performing schools.
Because the House and Senate versions of the bill were vastly different, a conference committee made up of House and Senate members was appointed to work out the differences between the two versions. The final version of the 179-page bill included many changes to the accountability system, including:
- The use of high school end-of-course exams to measure college readiness and the requirement that school accountability ratings be based on these higher standards.
- The incorporation of growth measures tied to college readiness into accountability ratings.
- A replacement of the current system of accountability ratings with an accreditation system for both campuses and districts.
- The addition of a distinction tier to recognize high-achieving campuses in a variety of areas.
- A change in the high school graduation requirements that would allow students more flexibility with elective courses while maintaining the 4x4 curriculum. Students now need four credits of English, math, science and social studies, along with two credits of a foreign language (or three credits for the advanced diploma), one credit of fine arts, one physical education credit and six electives (or five electives for the advanced diploma).
- An evaluation of school district programs for gifted-and-talented students.
- The requirement that students pass the end-of-course exams for Algebra II and English III in order to graduate under the recommended or advanced high school programs and to be considered exempt from college remediation. Passing scores will be determined by the commissioner of education in consultation with the commissioner of higher education.
- The requirement that students achieve a cumulative score determined by the commissioner on assessments in each core curriculum area. End-of-course tests count for 15 percent of a student’s course grade.
- The extension of the assessment exemption period for certain limited English proficiency (LEP) students who are unschooled refugees or asylees, as was proposed in stand-alone bills by Sen. Van de Putte and Rep. Villarreal.
- The removal of Spanish administration the TAKS test to sixth-grade LEP students.
- The elimination of the no-social promotion rule for grade three and a district’s ability to set their own standards for grade promotion based on factors that would include standardized test scores, course grades and teacher recommendations. Current promotion requirements continue for grades five and eight.
- The ability for districts to meet accountability standards using a three-year rolling average of scores instead of a single year’s scores.
- The ability for student growth to count toward meeting college-readiness standards.
- Greater flexibility in determining campus interventions and sanctions, repurposing rather than campus closure, and the delay of alternative management, repurposing or closure by one year if the commissioner of education determines that the campus is making significant progress toward accreditation.
- The ability for private for-profit entities to assume alternative management of a campus if no qualified nonprofit entities apply.
- A repeal of the requirement that districts allocate 65 percent of their funding to instructional expenditures.
- An evaluation and ranking of districts based on their allocation of financial resources.
- The requirement that districts provide each teacher with a report card at the beginning of each school year containing the assessment results of all incoming students, including whether they performed satisfactorily or met annual improvement standards.
- The elimination of the requirement that a reconstituted campus be renamed.
- The ability to consider delineating exceptions in the calculation of dropout rates, including students who have already been counted once before as dropouts.
- The requirement that school districts post a copy of their adopted budgets on their websites.
ATPE-recommended language regarding requirements of Campus Intervention Teams was included in the bill. The teams are required to determine the percentage of teachers fully certified on a campus, teacher retention rates, and whether mentoring is provided to the campus’s teachers with less than two years of experience in the subject or grade level to which they are assigned.
Most of the changes made by HB 3 will be implemented in the 2011-12 school year. The commissioner of education announced in early 2010 that assignment of accreditation statutes will be suspended that year to allow the transition period.
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