Touchy Subject—Proof of Validity and Reliability Required for State Assessments under New Law

A new state law in effect for the 2015-2016 school year turned out to be a touchy subject when the commissioner of education was asked about it at the State Board of Education Wednesday morning.

The legislation, enacted as House Bill 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty, Republican of Humble, says among other things that, before a state assessment may be administered, “the assessment instrument must, on the basis of empirical evidence, be determined to be valid and reliable by an entity that is independent of the agency [i.e., the Texas Education Agency] and of any other entity that developed the assessment instrument. “

State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, Republican of Mount Pleasant, asked Commissioner of Education Michael Williams if TEA has moved forward administering tests that have not been validated. A roundabout answer from Williams indicated that the agency is not yet complying with this standard and that this change in the state’s testing regime needs to be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education.

Ratliff then put a sharper point on the question, asking Williams what is to keep parents from filing a lawsuit saying their children don’t have to take a test that fails to meet the statutory requirement.

Williams responded by shutting down the conversation, saying “let’s not do this” and adding that he didn’t want to “promote the idea.” But it is the legislature that has promoted the idea by putting it into law. The SBOE and the legislature deserve a better answer from the commissioner.

Before the dialogue was cut short by the commissioner, SBOE member Ratliff had also inquired about the status of other constraints on standardized tests enacted in HB 743, which reduced the amount of time pupils must spend taking these state tests in grades three through eight. The bill also mandated that TEA review state curriculum standards and tests in grades three through eight to see if their coverage of essential knowledge and skills is appropriate. And HB 743 further required that TEA develop more trustworthy audit and monitoring methods for the state’s contracts with test developers, including periodic compliance reviews, without advance notice, to monitor vendor performance. All of the HB 743 changes in state policy on standardized testing were approved by a vote of 143 to 1 in the Texas House and in the Texas Senate by a margin of 27 to 4.