On October 28, 2019, the Texas House Public Education Committee (see the committee handout) heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and two panels of educators on issues related to the implementation of A-F rules under HB 22 (2017) and school finance provisions under HB 3 (2019). Morath shared TEA presentations on issues surrounding both bills.
Implementation of A-F Ratings
Morath provided the committee with several campus scenarios that demonstrate how the statute can be challenging in the areas of intervention associated with a D or F campus designation. He said that some school districts are unsure if their campuses are subject to campus intervention next year and noted that TEA’s proposed rules are attempting to address this confusion. Morath said he “paused” rulemaking as requested in order for the House Public Education Committee to have the opportunity to weigh in.
Morath said it’s unambiguous in statute that six years of D’s equals five years of F. He also said that it’s unambiguous that A-C are deemed acceptable ratings and that F is unacceptable. He said that statute surrounding a D rating, however, is ambiguous. Morath expanded on the ambiguity of a D rating by noting that, in some sections of statute, a D is considered and treated as an “acceptable” rating. He then explained that a campus/district rated D for two consecutive years must, per statute, receive the same interventions as a campus rated F or unacceptable.
House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty said that the Legislature should address this issue next session to provide clarity and tighten the language so it’s clear what interventions must be applied and when. He said that he would rather have the Legislature address the deficiencies in the statute than have TEA address them through rulemaking.
Morath expressed concern with how campuses needing interventions will develop and implement action plans without greater clarity provided via rulemaking. He said that he will reach out to the 13 affected districts that don’t have clarity and to districts that also are affected at the domain level before making any final decisions on the proposed rules.
Clear Creek ISD Superintendent and TASA President Greg Smith testified that it’s inherently wrong when a district earns an A rating but, because one campus in the district is given a D rating, the district’s A rating is reduced to a B rating. He also said that it was equally misleading when a D rating becomes an F rating, noting the frustration that occurs when trying to explain this rating system to parents in his community, many of whom are NASA employees. Dr. Smith told the committee that clarity is needed. He recommended that each domain be graded separately rather than providing an overall grade.
A–F Ratings and Correlation to Poverty
Rep. Morgan Meyer asked about A-F as a measure of economic disadvantage and asked how we can scale best practices from high-performing, high-poverty schools. Morath said that the A-F system has three domains and an overall rating, and the correlation to the overall rating is not strong. He continued by explaining that within the three domains, student achievement “is strongly correlated with poverty” and school progress has a very weak correlation. Morath said that variance in results gives lie to the notion this is measuring the neighborhood, noting that it’s measuring management practices as well as a neighborhood.
Meyer said he hears from constituents that the A-F rating system is demoralizing and punitive. Rep. Diego Bernal said that we need to identify those factors that are not education-related in nature but that affect student performance in the classroom and have the Legislature address them.
Northside ISD Superintendent and TASA President-Elect Brian Woods testified that grades and socioeconomic status are undeniably linked. He noted that 87 percent of his campuses rated a D or an F have an equal or greater number of economically disadvantaged students than other campuses. Additionally, he said that when looking at campuses that enrolled 20 percent or fewer economically disadvantaged students, almost 98 percent of those campuses received an overall rating of A or B. Dr. Woods stated that many high-performing, high-poverty schools have grade levels that are not assessed by STAAR, are magnet programs, or are small.
In response, Huberty asked if high-poverty campuses should be weighted differently. Woods said that weights could be applied in the student achievement domain to help equalize performance. Bernal said he was not sold on taking the pressure off of adults, asking “How do you make sure those kids get the attention?” Woods responded by saying that labels have consequences, and if the fundamental purpose of an accountability system is to drive resources where they are needed, we must also consider the consequences of a label. Rep. Harold Dutton asked if the best teachers are being assigned to the campuses with the most challenges. Woods said he’s not convinced our system helps achieve that. Bernal noted that there are many non-academic factors that impact academics and that fact must be a part of the continuing conversation around educational outcomes and expectations.
Local Accountability System (LAS) Pilot
Morath provided an update on the progress of TEA’s Local Accountability System (LAS) pilot initiated by HB 22. He noted that there are complications and challenges to developing a LAS because the statute requires each system to meet reliability, validity, and calibration standards. In response to a question by Huberty, Morath said that, out of the 19 school districts that submitted plans to participate in the pilot, only two plans by Snyder ISD and Dallas ISD have been approved.
Rep. Ken King inquired why there weren’t more rural schools in the pilot and whether TEA was encouraging their participation. Morath noted that TEA will provide more targeted technical assistance to rural districts moving forward. When questioned why the final LAS system wouldn’t be running before 2022, the commissioner noted that the agency is in the process of collecting pilot data to ensure validity and that takes several years.
Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers testified that his district’s proposed LAS plan was denied because indicators were based on adult behaviors that lead to better student outputs, such as increasing participation in AVID. He said TEA denied Alief ISD’s plan because it wasn’t based on student output or performance. He said that it would have been helpful to have a continuing conversation with clear responses to discuss if the draft was acceptable or not.
Smith testified that Clear Creek ISD was one of the 19 districts that initially applied to participate in the LAS pilot but later opted out after having concerns about the participation requirements and the increase in required submissions over time. He said that another reason CCISD opted out was that his district wanted to pilot the program at a few select campuses only, rather than at every campus, to test the work. However, TEA allowed no flexibility and required participation of all campuses.
Humble ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen testified about issues that led to her district’s proposed LAS plans being denied multiple times. She said that one issue was that Humble ISD gives all students the PSAT in eighth grade, and the district wanted to use those scores in their LAS. Dr. Fagen said that TEA instructed them that if they incorporated their students’ PSAT scores into their LAS, the district would be rated with a C, likely because the state average is based on fewer, higher performing students across the state. Fagen said that Humble ISD also administers pre-AP assessments, but TEA would have required them to use end-of-course assessments instead, a substitution the district did not agree with. She said the district is building some local assessments that measure what the community cares about and will see if their updated LAS plan will be accepted by TEA.
Chambers said the issue of whether STAAR is an accurate reflection of what our students are able to achieve keeps coming up. He expressed appreciation for the readability report that The University of Texas at Austin has been commissioned to undertake that is due in December 2019. Chambers said that the report is particularly important as it affects students in grades 3-8 who are assessed only via STAAR tests.
Morath called HB 3 a “monstrous force for good,” with a $635 per ADA average increase, and he testified that Texas now has the most equitable system in the United States. He said that he has issued 22 “To the Administrator Addressed” letters related to HB 3, and he will continue related rulemaking through Thanksgiving. He said he is in the process of appointing members to the various advisory committees called for in the statute. Morath said that new legislation is not needed next session (other than to address unintended consequences of HB 3), and he cautioned that it will take five to 10 years to absorb all of the changes the bill requires. He addressed pay raises and several unintended consequences that statute gives him the ability to resolve.
Fagen expressed appreciation to the committee and Legislature on the passage of HB 3. She reminded the committee that districts had to move forward and adopt budgets without knowing all the spending implications related to what TEA would deem supplanting. She recommended that there be a transition period for districts while they learn which funds can and cannot be used in certain areas related to supplanting.
Teacher Pay Raises
On calculation of pay raises, Morath said TEA technically doesn’t have to collect the data on school districts, as HB 3 requires districts to send teacher pay information to the Legislature. He said the agency might do a data collection on the pay raises that were given in response to HB 3 and have a group of school districts participate in a focus group.
Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA) general counsel Lonnie Hollingsworth thanked the committee for the 20 percent increase in minimum salary schedule. He said that raising the minimum will raise salaries overall. He expressed concern that districts might treat the automatic pay raise requirement as a ceiling rather than a floor.
Nicole Conley, Austin ISD chief of Business and Operations, applauded legislators for making education a priority during the 2019 legislative session. She said that AISD was able to provide significant raises and decrease the district’s deficit.
CTE Funding for Smaller Districts
Rep. Trent Ashby asked Morath about CTE funding as a follow up to the letter he sent the commissioner about an issue that affects very small districts that lose CTE funding. Without identifying an exact solution, Morath said this is the essence of an unintended consequence, and for now there is an internal fix (changing the incentive that has caused the small districts to not enroll as many kids in CTE). He said this issue will need to be tackled next session.
Huberty said that legislators never intended for small districts to be negatively affected and asked if runs that were done by TEA included these factors. Morath responded by saying that 300 to 400 of these districts gain an average of $1,400 per student so they are not losing money. He said that it would not be good for districts to remove kids from CTE, because they lose money under the interplay between the small district allotment and CTE.
Rep. Gary VanDeaver said that the CTE issue is similar to the charter school one (less money would have gone to special education for charters, so TEA is moving money from the charter allotment into the charter special education area to make sure it is spent on that category). Morath said the fix is somewhat analogous and doesn’t have a fiscal note saying a letter from the agency is forthcoming. Ashby, VanDeaver, and Rep. Keith Bell said they would remain focused on this issue.
Sunray ISD Superintendent Marshall Harrison, representing the Texas Association of Rural Schools (TARS), expressed great appreciation for HB 3 because part of its focus is on CTE and Career, College, and Military Readiness (CCMR) funding, which provides additional opportunities and accountability for students once they leave high school. He noted that Sunray ISD will lose $23,000 in CTE funding if TEA’s current interpretation of HB 3 remains in place.
Fast Growth Allotment
Guy Sconzo, executive director of the Fast Growth Schools Coalition, applauded the committee and the Legislature’s work on the passage of HB 3. He expressed concern about TEA’s recent proposed rules related to the Fast Growth Allotment that determines funding based on the percentage of growth versus the number of new students enrolling in a district. Sconzo said that there would be additional costs if TEA changed its interpretation but he believes the intent of the allotment was to ensure districts gaining large numbers of students would receive the allotment. Huberty noted that this will ultimately require a legislative fix.
In response to a question from Bernal, Morath said all districts must offer high-quality pre-K. Fagen pointed out a supplant issue with compensatory education funding and HB 3’s early education funding that can be used for pre-K. TEA’s general counsel Von Byer said 55 percent of compensatory education must be “supplemental services.” He said that pre-K is now a requirement and not supplemental. Byer noted that 45 percent of compensatory education funding can be spent on “other.”
Conley said new spending requirements are difficult and discussed new data reporting and PEIMS changes (noting more than 20 new data codes and elements) and the need for leniency in compliance.
Conley suggested allowing use of compensatory education funds on social-emotional learning (SEL) and trauma support – professional development, student development, and curriculum. She also asked if school districts could stop collecting income verification forms because they are using census data for compensatory education purposes. She said that AISD is mapping students who have to fill out income forms and comparing that information to census blocks to ensure they are not missing anyone.
College Career Military Readiness (CCMR)
On the new CCMR Outcomes Bonus in HB 3, Conley said that tying money to performance and outcomes can affect the most vulnerable students. She suggested changing “and” to “or” in the CCMR statute, so that “military ready” could include students completing JROTC courses and meeting the ASVAB cut score but not include enlisting, because student enlistment is not under a school district’s purview. Conley also noted program stability is a concern if there are fluctuations in funding based on student outcomes.
Incentive for Extended Year Funding
Conley addressed TEA rule about extended year funding that indicates districts must offer a minimum of 180 instructional days. She said that this way of funding conflicts with the “minutes of instruction” bill that passed the prior session.
TEA’s Byer said that the incentive was to add additional instruction days, which is why HB 3 requires a minimum of 180 days to qualify for the extended year funding. He continued saying that statute also requires at least “180 days of instruction.” Byer said that the intent was to incentivize districts to hold school over multiple days and end summer slide, with teacher cost provided for the half-day of instruction. He suggested that the Legislature could revisit this provision next session.
Teacher Incentive Funding
Fagen noted that the she thought the goal of the incentive pay program provided in HB 3 was that it be a local decision but that the portability of it makes it more of a statewide program. She also said that having national board-certified teachers does not automatically equate to having all good teachers.
Huberty asked the panel superintendents whether they had seen increases in dyslexia identification, and they responded that they had seen increases in both dyslexia and in special education identification.
As the committee adjourned, Huberty said that no additional interim hearings are anticipated this year. A broadcast archive of the hearing is available.