Texas AFT Comments on Proposed Federal Testing and Accountability Regulations

Texas AFT has filed comments with the U.S. Department of Education on proposed regulations concerning testing and accountability under the new Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to the late and unlamented No Child Left Behind Act. Our chief concern is to make sure that the hard-won freedom in this new law from NCLB test-and-punish mandates is not undermined by prescriptive federal regulations.

The proposed regulations go some way toward reinforcing the law’s flexibility for states to incorporate new measures of school quality and student success, beyond test scores, into their accountability systems. The regulations also do a lot to uphold the law’s flexibility to allow local school systems and their stakeholders to select interventions for struggling schools that meet their needs. The requirement that states report data comparing the demographics and student achievement of charter schools to those of the regular public schools in their surrounding communities is also a plus.

However, we have some major concerns that in other respects the proposed regulations walk away from the promise of flexibility and opportunity of ESSA, and along with our national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, we seek changes in the following areas before these rules become final:

  • Timelines won’t allow for use of non-test measures : The proposed regulations require that all states begin identifying schools as in need of support and improvement in the 2017-18 school year, using data from the previous school year. Without enough time to put new accountability systems in place, states will revert to what they already have—test-driven systems.
  • Punishments for opting out of tests : Rather than listen to the outcry from parents and educators over hyper-testing, the proposed regulations offer specific punitive consequences for districts and schools when fewer than 95 percent of students take tests. This does not resolve but rather only inflames concerns over the misuse and high-stakes nature of standardized testing.
  • Equity requires more than narrow indicators : ESSA continues important equity safeguards so that states cannot deny disadvantaged children funding to level the playing field. Additionally, schools identified for support and improvement must create a plan to address resource inequities.

    Texas AFT supports this notion, but the draft regulations only require two “resource inequities” to be examined: per-pupil expenditures and disproportionate access to ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers identified by the state and district. These requirements go straight to teachers and their salaries; what’s needed is a broad look at other inequities like differential access to early childhood education, wraparound services, and facilities.

  • Inflexible graduation-rate requirements : The law says a school must be identified for interventions if its graduation rate is below 67 percent, and it allows for this calculation to include more than four years for some students. The regulations, however, would require all schools with a four-year graduation rate below 67 percent to be identified, without allowances for more time. This proposal ignores the law and the commonsense flexibility it offers to schools and students who need more time.
  • Defining “ineffective” teachers : The regulations would require states to submit a definition of ineffective teachers. Because of Race to the Top and the No Child Left Behind waivers, most states put in place definitions of “ineffective” that were based, in significant part, on student test scores. ESSA squarely rejects such involvement by the federal government in teacher evaluation. However, most states have these definitions left over in their state laws because of recent federal mandates, and they will likely just submit what they already have, making it more difficult for states to move away from old and punitive evaluation systems.