Around the State

Austin member a finalist for Texas Teacher of the Year

An Education Austin member, Allison Ashley, has been named finalist for Texas Teacher of the Year. Ashley, a bilingual teacher at Becker Elementary in Austin ISD, is one of three finalists for the honor, with three other finalists vying for secondary Texas Teacher of the Year.
Ashley has a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and has taught bilingual education in Austin ISD six of her nine years as a teacher. The state winners will be announced at an October 14 event in Austin. The Teacher of the Year award is sponsored each year by the Texas Association of School Administrators. The top two Texas teachers are then entered in the National Teacher of the Year competition.

San Antonio local pioneers peer assistance program in Texas

The San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel has collaborated with San Antonio ISD to create a new system of mentoring, professional development and support—a Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program—for new and experienced teachers.

PAR relies on expert teachers to help both new and struggling teachers, and the Alliance spent three years working with the district on forging a PAR model that will be called the “Peer Support Partnership: Pathways to Teaching Success.”

PAR bases its success on the concept that support from peer teachers yields better results than typical “top down” support, or standard mentoring program models. The district created a “Consulting Teacher position” to be the centerpiece of the program. The Consulting Teacher is an experienced teaching professional who will mentor participating novice teachers and veteran teachers by providing direct instructional support through observation, data collection, feedback, model teaching and coaching. Five Consulting Teachers were selected over the summer, and each will provide support for 12-15 teachers.

The first PAR program was developed by an AFT union—the Toledo Federation of Teachers—in the early 1980s and has since been used as a template for labor-management collaboration for teacher support throughout the country.

Parents sue TEA over STAAR

A group of Texas parents is suing the Texas Education Agency and Education Commissioner Mike Morath claiming that STAAR results are invalid for not meeting new, shortened test-time requirements in legislation passed last session.

The law, HB 743, requires that exams be designed so that 85 percent of students in grades 3 through 5 could finish within two hours and 85 percent of students in grades 6 through 8 could finish within three hours.

The parents, led by Ben Becker of Houston under the moniker “The Committee to Stop STAAR,” raised more than $25,000 in donations on a crowd-funding website to initiate the lawsuit. TEA tried to halt the legal action in an August hearing in Travis County District Court by asserting parents had no standing to sue.

Attorneys for TEA argued that the parents’ students had suffered no “harm,” since Morath suspended all grade-promotion requirements for fifth and eighth graders this year after numerous problems with test administration. TEA also noted that students in other grades who failed the STAAR exams could still be promoted by a unanimous decision of a committee made up of the child’s parents, teacher and principal—if the committee believed the student could advance and perform at grade level.

District Court Judge Stephen Yelenosky denied TEA’s request and the lawsuit will proceed. Before the hearing, the parent group had made several public information requests to determine exactly how long students took to complete their spring STAAR exams, but TEA said the information was unavailable. However, some hours after the hearing, TEA released a report to the parent group that showed it took more than three hours for students at all grade levels to finish almost all of the STAAR exams.

The report bolstered the parents’ assertion that the STAAR exams last spring were illegal and it emboldened trustees in one school district—Marlin ISD—to vote in September to join the lawsuit. Marlin ISD had failed accountability standards for five consecutive years and was facing possible closure of the district. Shortly after the vote to join the lawsuit, TEA notified Marlin ISD that it was taking control of the district and appointing a board of managers to govern it.

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