Agency Updates—Curbing Testing Excesses, Debating Superintendent Certification Standards

Texas Education Agency: Commissioner of Education Michael Williams announced today a move toward partial compliance with HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble), a key bill passed last session by the legislature to curb state testing excesses and demand proof that state tests are valid and reliable before they are administered. The commissioner told school districts that the length of time required for students to take state achievement tests in grades 3-8 would be reduced.

However, Williams did not address TEA’s delayed compliance with provisions of HB 743 calling for verification by an independent entity of the validity and reliability of state exams before they can be administered. On that issue the commissioner has variously argued that federal authorities and TEA’s own technical advisers already have validated the tests, or that federal regulations contradict and prevail over the new state law, or that as a practical matter there has not been enough time to comply. These contentions have been questioned by State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant), by Rep. Huberty, and by educator and parent stakeholders, who have been weighing options available to ensure full enforcement of the ground-breaking curbs on state testing in HB 743.

While that HB 743 issue simmers, here for your information is the text of Williams’ letter to school administrators announcing the shortening of achievement tests beginning with the spring 2016 administrations in grades 3-8:

October 16, 2015

TO THE ADMINISTRATOR ADDRESSED:

SUBJECT: Reduction of Number of Questions, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR®) Grades 3–8 Assessments

This letter is to inform school districts that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will reduce the length of the STAAR assessments in grades 3–8 for the 2016 spring administrations.

House Bill (HB) 743 requires that STAAR assessments be designed so that 85% of students can complete the grades 3–5 assessments in two hours and 85% of students can complete the grades 6–8 assessments in three hours. To meet this legislative requirement to reduce the length of each assessment while maintaining valid and reliable assessments, the TEA will take the following actions in the 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 school years. For 2016 only, TEA will remove all currently-embedded field-test questions for STAAR grades 3–8, which will reduce the length of each assessment by five to eight questions. TEA has also redesigned the 2016 STAAR grades 4 and 7 writing tests so they will be completed in one four-hour administration.

TEA will also collect detailed data during the spring 2016 test administration on the time it takes students to complete the assessments. These data will then be used to determine how to adjust the STAAR grades 3–8 assessments for spring 2017 testing to more precisely meet the testing time requirements of HB 743.

State Board for Educator Certification: Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi’s testimony before the State Board for Educator Certification today disputed the wisdom of a proposal to make it easier for non-educators to serve as school superintendents. An upcoming Hotline will report further developments on this issue. Here is Texas AFT’s written testimony for today’s SBEC meeting:

We have serious concerns about the proposed changes in rules regarding superintendent certification and the weakening effect these changes could have on other certification rules in the future for principals and teachers.

Removing the requirement that superintendent candidates first have a principal certification will mean superintendents would not be required to have any teaching experience before managing a workforce of educators. We question how someone could effectively manage professional educators without the first-hand knowledge of what these employees do and do not do on a daily basis.

The core mission of schools is teaching and learning. This alternative route for certification seems to ignore that mission by watering down certification standards, allowing for non-educators to make important decisions affecting the daily lives of educators and students, and we are concerned about where it will stop. It should be compelling that every teacher group opposes this change. In addition, you have also heard the same concerns from the administrator groups. The only proponents of this rule change appear to be stakeholders from the business community.

It should be noted that a waiver process already exists to allow TEA to approve an alternative route for superintendent certification that involves notice and participation by the affected local community. What’s the problem that this rule change is trying to fix?

These changes would make it easy for school districts to hire leaders who have never had to control a classroom of students, never had to write a lesson plan, and never had to teach a child. Please oppose these changes that would weaken state certification standards for superintendents and would create a dangerous precedent to do the same for both principal and teacher certification standards.