The Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability held its final meeting this week and voted to adopt final recommendations for its report to the governor and Legislature ahead of a Sept. 1, 2016, deadline.

Created by HB 2804 in 2015, the 15-member commission was charged with developing and making recommendations for new systems of student assessment and public school accountability that address certain listed attributes. The commission spent months learning from experts and gathering input. Early in the process, TCTA testified, offering suggestions for how to design a new state testing and accountability system that encompasses better measures of student learning and a more holistic view of campus and school district performance. (Click here to watch video testimony. TCTA testimony starts at the 06:02:45 mark.) 

During its July 27 meeting, the commission voted 9-1, with five members absent, to approve nine short-term recommendations and five longer-term recommendations, but stopped short of calling for the state to scrap the highly unpopular STAAR tests.

The commission recommended the state implement a computer-adaptive assessment system to provide useful, real-time feedback to educators, parents and students. Members said the system should consist of multiple integrated assessments administered throughout the school year to measure individual student learning and growth throughout the school year, that it should include computerized-adaptive instruction, and that the recommendation is contingent on adequate and consistent network capability throughout the state.   

In an illustration of how interrelated are the issues of accountability and assessment, commission members struggled with how their recommendation for such a system would work within the context of federal requirements that state accountability systems be based in part, on student performance on state assessments. Some members expressed a clear desire to “divorce” assessment from accountability, as well as to protect the recommended system of formative, diagnostic assessment from being used for high-stakes accountability. This sentiment surfaced in discussing another of their assessment recommendations, which was to limit state assessment to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) readiness standards in an effort to relieve teachers of having to cover too many curriculum standards to the detriment of more depth in instruction and student learning. Also related to this was the commission’s decision not to include in its recommendation that the state computer-adaptive system completely replace the STAAR system, given federal requirements for state accountability systems to be based in part on student performance on state assessments.

A third recommendation is to “streamline” the TEKS to “create a manageable number of TEKS that can be reasonably expected to be taught in a single school year, which would also serve to limit the eligible content in testing.” Commission and State Board of Education member Erica Beltran included language that the SBOE had already begun this process.

Reduce testing

A dominant theme among commission members was the desire to reduce testing overall. Texas has long tested students on more subjects/grade levels than required by federal law; particular examples are fourth- and seventh-grade writing as well as the writing component of English I and II end-of-course exams, and the U.S. History EOC. Based on this, as well as reaction to consistent complaints from parents and educators that the state writing test fails to assess authentic writing given its forced 26-line essay design, the commission recommended that instead of a state writing test, local school districts would develop writing assessments based on a framework developed by the commissioner of education. The local tests would have to be approved by the commissioner, and districts would report results for all students to TEA using a stratified, random sampling as the basis for reporting.

Based on concerns by some commission members that the state’s current high school assessments are not aligned with college/career readiness, the commission adopted another recommendation to provide the option of using student performance on nationally recognized measures of college and career readiness, such as SAT, ACT, AP, IB, Aspire, etc., in the state accountability system for high schools. The recommendation included using state funds to broaden the administration of national tests and remove a barrier to participation for students with economic challenges.

Further study

Recommendations for further study included how the next generation of Texas assessments can be aligned to a wide variety of postsecondary measures that help predict future academic and occupational success. The commission also recommended the state conduct an independent research study to explore the implications of replacing the state-developed assessment system with nationally recognized assessments that align with the TEKS content standards.

Finally, in an effort to explore moving away from whole-population testing for accountability purposes, the commission recommended using existing data to study the relationship between stratified, random sampling results and results from testing the whole student population in order to determine whether stratified, random sampling will meet federal and state assessment requirements (federal law currently requires whole population testing). The study also will determine whether stratified, random sampling should be supplemented with whole-grade testing at key gateway transition points.

To see what’s in the final report, click here