History: Public School Testing and Accountability
2007: The legislature addressed testing and accountability issues in SB 1031. It replaced the state's mandated, standardized test--the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS-- with end-of-course testing as a requirement for graduation from high school. The change starts with students entering grade 9 in the 2011-2012 school year. TAKS is still to be used in grades 3-8. In addition to other changes that were designed to relieve the pressure from testing and provide better preparation for college, the bill created a Joint Select Committee on Public School Accountability. This committee was directed to consider changes in the test-driven accountability system before the 2009 session, with implementation of any proposed changes scheduled for 2011-2012.
2008: The League filed testimony in March and May with the State Board of Education (SBOE) concerning revisions to the state's curriculum in English/Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) for kindergarten through 12th grade. The League urged support of a state standardized curriculum that is developed with broad input from Texas educators and that addresses the needs of the state's diverse student population. The League supported the draft curriculum from teacher writing teams, but the SBOE voted 9-6 to approve their own revisions to a late-hour version.
The SBOE began considering revisions to the K-12 science curriculum in the fall of 2008. The League filed testimony in November, urging support for the draft from the teacher writing teams, which embraced the scientific concept of evolution that is widely endorsed by scientists throughout the world; and a standardized curriculum that provides the academic rigor students need to succeed in college and careers throughout the nation and the world.
In June, the League filed testimony before the Joint Select Committee on Public School Accountability--one of many such hearings held throughout the state. The League called for a fairer and more just system, free of punitive ratings and sanctions, citing positions the League had adopted in the spring of 2008.
2009: The League filed testimony with the SBOE in January and March concerning proposed revisions to the K-12 science curriculum. Once again, the League supported drafts prepared by educator writing teams. The League opposed language that would weaken instruction in the scientific concept of evolution, as well as the ability of Texas students to compete in a global market. A March 2009 Action Alert urged members to support these positions in individual contacts with the SBOE. While the SBOE did not adopt "strengths and weaknesses" language concerning the study of evolution, the board approved amendments to require high school students in biology to "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency and insufficiency of common ancestry"; and in earth and space science, to "assess the arguments for and against universal common descent." As the SBOE takes up revisions to the social studies curriculum in the fall of 2009, the League is continuing advocacy supported by previously invoked positions.
The 81st Legislature enacted broad changes to the state's accountability system in HB 3. Some of the modifications are consistent with League positions: allowing the use of growth models, rather than a single-year assessment, to measure a school's achievement; improving preparation for college and careers; reducing the focus on student achievement as the prime criterion for promotion in grade 3; providing some relief on the definition of dropouts, which affects ratings; and giving the commissioner of education the option to grant improving schools to be rated as Unacceptable an additional fifth year before they are closed or put under alternative management. However, the League believes that HB 3 did not do enough to relieve punitive sanctions, ratings, personnel changes, and closures, which disproportionately affect urban schools with high populations of low-income students and English learners. The League prefers an accountability system that is used for diagnostic, rather than punitive purposes. Another concern is that the test-driven accountability system has become even more complex and reliant on achievement ratings since HB 3 added 10 new indicators on college readiness.
2011: Education issues associated with testing, accountability, and achievement took a back seat to school finance this session. Many changes concerning these issues resulted from HB 3 last session, with some scheduled to be phased in through 2013. The consensus this session seemed to be that the new system should be allowed to become fully operational before other changes should be made.
HB 2135 is one change that will cut back on assessments for students in grades 3 and 5 who meet certain requirements. Another change, which was requested by some legislators in the 2011 session, involves the way accountability ratings are determined by the Texas Education Agency. Based on a 2006 legislative directive, the agency had developed and adopted in 2009 the Texas Projection Measure (TPM). It estimates whether a student who failed the standardized test during the current school year is likely to pass the test in the next grade level. If so, the student is counted as passing for purposes of the current year's accountability rating.
This session, legislators argued that the TPM artificially increased ratings and gave the public a misleading message about the performance of their school and district. In response, the commissioner of education reverted to the actual passing rates for calculation of the 2010-2011 accountability ratings. This system will remain in effect while the state transitions from the TAKS to new, more rigorous assessments--the STAAR, along with end-of-course tests in high school.
2013: HB 5 (Aycock) SUPPORT was the major piece of legislation to deal with testing at the high school level. It was passed unanimously by both the House and the Senate. It reduces the end-of-course tests from 15 to five, including English I and II (reading and writing combined), Algebra I, biology and U.S. History. English III and Algebra II may be used by districts for diagnostic purposes but will not be required for graduation. The new testing regimen will begin in 2013. Schools will also be prohibited from administering more than two benchmark tests per student per subject. We supported this bill based on our position that tests should be limited in frequency of test administration, including benchmark tests, practice tests and field tests.