Senate Education Committee’s Interim Report: Accountability and More

The last couple of Hotlines have laid out many of the recommendations emanating from the Texas Senate Education Committee in an interim report to the 2011 legislature issued last week.

You can see the full report at this site:  http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/Senate/commit/c530/c530.InterimReport81.pdf.

More of the committee’s recommendations are worth noting here. Under the heading of “teacher quality” initiatives, for instance, the committee recommends developing “an accountability system for professional development to monitor the quality of courses used for continuing education hours.” No further explanation of this item is offered in the interim report. Also recommended is the creation of “a statewide teacher leadership program by issuing specializations, endorsements, and/or mid-management certifications.”

One other important set of recommendations relates to implementation of specific bills passed in 2009.

Educator-preparation programs: In very general terms, the committee calls on the 2011 legislature to “expedite the implementation of the educator preparation program accountability system enacted by SB 174.” That bill provides for the evaluation of each ed-prep program in part based on the achievement gains, or lack thereof, among students taught by the graduates of that ed-prep program. Texas AFT will be involved in a stakeholder discussion that will consider exactly how this requirement can be implemented in a sensible way that doesn’t just come down to yet one more misuse of students’ scores on state achievement tests.

Virtual schools:  The interim report recommends that the legislature “expand student access to coursework in a digital medium including expansion of the virtual school network, along with similar virtual school options, and removing barriers to access of virtual options.” As with other recommendations, the merits of this one are hard to assess without more specific explanation of what the committee has in mind.

Accountability:  One of the most significant recommendations in this report calls on the legislature to “ensure there is no delay or modification in implementing the assessments and accountability provisions in HB 3 as postsecondary readiness remains the highest priority of Texas’ education system.” This adamant insistence on “no delay or modification” comes as many educators are asking: How can a new accountability system with higher achievement targets be implemented on schedule when districts simultaneously are being warned by lawmakers that state education funding will not increase and could even be significantly reduced? Some superintendents and school boards are telling legislators there should be a longer phase-in of the new accountability standards, now set to take effect in the 2012-2013 school year.

The committee’s interim report itself provides some grist for the argument in favor of a longer phase-in of new accountability standards. The report makes multiple references to the complexities of switching from the current TAKS accountability system to the new STAAR system (STAAR standing for State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness).

Issues identified in the committee report’s appendix on HB 3 implementation include:

–How districts are to make retention decisions in grades 3-8 using new assessment instruments, considering the fact that “performance standards on the new assessments will be determined in fall 2012 after the first operational administration with scores being reported to districts after the start of the 2012-2013 school year.”

–How HB 3’s new end-of-course exams in high school will be modified for students with disabilities. The committee report’s HB 3 appendix says, “No funding was appropriated to develop modified versions of the 12 EOC [end-of-course] assessments. Additionally, many high school students with disabilities are currently enrolled in high school courses that may not prepare them to take a modified version of the EOCs.”

–How the Texas Education Agency is to determine necessary annual improvement required each year for student to be prepared to perform satisfactorily on the grade-5 assessments, grade-8 assessments, and the EOC assessments required for graduation. The report’s appendix on HB 3 states: “Identifying an appropriate method for determining growth across EOC assessments within some of the content areas (such as social studies and science) could be challenging because there is no specified course sequence, and all 12 assessments will be required for graduation for most students.”

–How soon performance standards can be established for the crucial EOC exams in math and English that are expected to measure college readiness beginning with the 2011-2012 school year. The report’s appendix on HB 3 notes: “Algebra II and English III will be operational in the 2011-2012 school year and standards will be set on both assessments in fall 2011. However, the English III standards will be set based on field test data only, and it will be necessary to review these standards after the spring 2013 administration and adjust them if necessary.”