TCTA President Grace Mueller was invited to testify before the Texas House Public Education Committee on a panel regarding the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) March 26, 2014, in response to the committee’s interim charge to review the “broad scope and breadth of the current TEKS in the tested grades, including the format, testing calendar, and the limitation on instructional days available” and recommend options to “streamline the assessment of TEKS and focus on core concepts.”

Mueller shared her perspective on TEKS as an eighth-grade language arts teacher as well as feedback provided by the more than 1,500 TCTA members who participated in a TCTA online survey on the TEKS conducted March 18-21. (Thank you to all the TCTA members who took the time to respond to this survey.)

In that survey:

  • Nearly 85 percent said they do not have enough time to cover the assessed TEKS for their subject areas before the state assessment is administered. The most popular solution was reducing the overall number of TEKS (43 percent) followed by reducing the number of tested TEKS (29 percent) and administering the test later in the school year (28 percent).
  • Nearly 75 percent said they feel there is redundancy in the TEKS (47 percent said there is “a little”; 28 percent said there is “a lot”).
  • More than 64 percent of TCTA members surveyed said they think teachers should be required to teach both “readiness” and “supporting” TEKS standards.

“Our conclusions from TCTA members’ comments are that the overall number of TEKS should be reduced and that the current TEKS need a good scrubbing to edit out unnecessary redundancies,” Mueller said. “Far greater emphasis should be placed on the ‘readiness’ TEKS, and those should be the basis for the STAAR. The ‘supporting’ TEKS should be just that — supporting and providing greater depth when appropriate, but not treated equally for assessment or teaching purposes.”

She also testified that the STAAR should be administered as late in the school year as feasible.

TCTA also testifies on testing, accountability

In response to the committee’s interim charge to monitor the implementation of House Bill 5, the major testing and accountability bill of the 2013 legislative session, TCTA’s Director of Professional Development and Advocacy Holly Eaton testified that some school districts are circumventing the law by finding ways to administer more than two benchmark tests per tested subject area each year.

Eaton reported that some districts have simply renamed the benchmark tests and others have added additional benchmark questions to other tests. She called on the committee to direct TEA to issue guidance to districts that informs them of legislative intent on this matter.

In response to the committee’s interim charge to “review current federal testing requirements in grades 3-8 to determine if testing relief is possible,” Eaton advocated for the elimination of the fourth- and seventh-grade writing tests as well as the eighth-grade social studies test. She said that the state could cut these tests and still be compliant with NCLB.

TCTA testimony also covered the problems created by Texas moving to an A-F labeling system for its public school accountability system.

Per HB 5, beginning with the 2016-17 school year, the commissioner of education must assign each Texas school district a performance rating of A, B, C, D or F. An A, B or C rating will reflect acceptable performance; a D or F rating will reflect unacceptable performance.

TCTA’s Eaton testified that returning to a rating approach based on the premise that a school’s performance can be reduced to a single word or letter grade is a mismatch with the simultaneous move to a more complex index accountability approach designed to provide a more accurate and holistic picture of school performance.

Additionally, she reported that other states and districts using the A-F system have found the system to be problematic. For example, the Center for New York City Affairs issued a report that said the A-F grading system in New York City was “deeply flawed.”

It said that this type of grading system “simply doesn’t accurately reflect each school’s strengths and weaknesses, yet it plays a critical role in public perceptions of the school, decisions made about its future, and its ability to attract and hold staff. Students are never given a report card with a single grade to reflect their own work, but rather several grades for several subjects. A more useful annual report card would reflect that schools are strong at some things and weak in others.”