Hurricane-impact hearing boosts case for suspending test-driven sanctions

Today’s hearing of the House Public Education Committee in Austin spotlighted the need for suspension of punitive state policies, based on scores on standardized state tests, for students, schools, and school districts that bore the brunt of Hurricane Harvey. Testimony from Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro and others noted the lasting trauma for students and education employees and their families caused by the hurricane and ensuing flooding. In the wake of this disaster, Malfaro said, we are at a “first things first” moment—and the last thing schools and students should be focused on is the punitive consequences of the state’s test-driven accountability system.

Testimony from state and local officials at the hearing clearly established that the state has the authority to suspend adverse accountability ratings for students, schools, and districts where learning opportunities have been substantially disrupted by natural disaster. The appropriate rating in these circumstances, many witnesses agreed, would be “not rated,” given that test data would reflect the disruption more than student achievement.

Judging by remarks from committee members, there is strong sentiment in the House for some such effort to ease the impact of the state accountability system on hurricane-disrupted schools. Committee chair Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) said the commissioner of education should expect a letter shortly from the committee pursuing this idea. Huberty also noted that a future Texas Senate Education Committee hearing would likely address the same topic, and he encouraged those who testified today to make themselves heard in that forum as well.