The federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, requires states to submit ESSA plans to the U.S. Department of Education for review and approval by Sept. 18, 2017. The Texas Education Agency posted its proposed plan for public comment; comments are due by Aug. 29, 2017.

Upon review of the proposed plan, TCTA is disappointed that Texas appears not to be taking advantage of the new opportunities available in ESSA to change the school accountability and student assessment systems in positive ways. For example, ESSA requires states to adopt at least one indicator of school quality/student success and lists several examples, including student engagement, educator engagement, and school climate and safety. TCTA was excited about this opportunity, as, in an attempt to provide a more holistic evaluation of school success beyond test scores, we have advocated for years for the state to incorporate a “learning environment index” into the state accountability system, comprised of indicators such as rates of out-of-field and inexperienced teacher assignments, class sizes, educator engagement survey results, and school climate survey results. 

Unfortunately, Texas’s proposed ESSA plan offers STAAR Math/Reading college-readiness level results for grades 3-8 as its School Quality/Student Success indicator for elementary and middle schools; and a list of college/career/military readiness indicators for high schools (like students earning dual-course credits/industry certification, students awarded an associate’s degree while in high schools and students performing at a certain level on advanced placement or similar exams).

Other highlights of Texas’s proposed plan

1.   Exempts eighth-graders taking the Algebra I end-of-course exam from the corresponding eighth grade Math STAAR, provided that the state ensures that the eighth-grader takes a more advanced math exam in high school for purposes of high school accountability. Texas also ensures that all students in the state have the opportunity to be prepared for and take advanced math coursework in middle school.

2.   Includes STAAR results for students previously identified as English learners in the English learner student subgroup for purposes of school accountability, for up to four years after the student ceases to be an English learner.

3.   Excludes state assessment results for English learners in their first year of enrollment in U.S. schools for purposes of school accountability (however, these students must still be assessed and included in assessment participation rates), and then includes their state assessment results in their second year of enrollment in U.S. schools based on the English language progress measure. After the second year, their state assessments results will be included in the state accountability system as part of the state assessment indicators.

4.   Establishes long term goals for each of the following:

  • For improved academic achievement, that 90% of all students and subgroups will achieve “Approaches Grade Level” on the STAAR by 2032, with interim targets over 5-year intervals beginning in 2017-18.  Interim targets for Math and Reading/ELA STAAR are: for 2017-22: 80%; for 2022-27: 85%; and for 2027-32: 90%.
  • For the four-year graduation rate: 96% (beginning with the Class of 2017, sets the target at 92 percent, increasing by two percentage points over five-year intervals); for the five-year graduation rate, 97% (beginning with the Class of 2017, sets the target at 93%, increasing by two percentage points over 5-year intervals); and for the six-year graduation rate: 98% (beginning with the Class of 2017, sets the target at 94%, increasing by two percentage points over five-year intervals).
  • For English language proficiency, 46 percent of students making progress in achieving English language proficiency by the year 2032, starting with a target of 42% in 2017-2022, increasing to 44% in 2022-2027, and then increasing to 46% in 2027-2032).

5.   Provides for the following accountability indicators:

  • Academic achievement: Percentage of STAAR results at or above “approaches grade level” for all students and subgroups by subject on STAAR grades 3-8 and end-of-course assessments in ELA/reading, math, writing, science and social studies.
  • Academic indicator for elementary and middle schools: growth in Reading and Math STAAR results with credit given for maintaining high performance levels.
  • Graduation rate: Texas is required by state statute to use the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) dropout definition and to calculate the graduation rates in accordance with ESSA.
  • English Language Proficiency: the percent of English Learners in grades K-12 making progress on the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment Systems (TELPAS).
  • School Quality/Student Success: For elementary and middle schools: STAAR Math/Reading college-readiness level results for grades 3-8. For high schools: College, Career and Military Readiness indicators, including students meeting the Texas Success Initiative benchmarks in reading or math; students who satisfy relevant performance standards on Advanced Placement or similar exams, students who earn dual-course credits, students who enlist in the military, students who earn an industry certification, students admitted into postsecondary certification programs that have as an admission requirement successful performance at the secondary level, students who successfully complete college preparatory courses, students who successfully meet standards on a composite of indicators that indicate the student’s preparation to success, without remediation, in an entry-level course for a bachelor’s or associate’s degree program, students who successfully complete and OnRamps dual-enrollment course, and students awarded an associate’s degree while in high school.

6.   Provides that for purposes of factoring into the state accountability system the requirement for 95% student participation in state math and reading/language arts assessments, Texas will include that information in its “Closing the Gaps” domain report and that campuses that don’t meet the student participation rate will be notified and develop strategies to address it as part of the annual campus needs assessment for Title I funding. 

Equitable access to in-field, experienced, effective educators

ESSA requires states to describe in their state plans how low-income and minority children enrolled in Title I schools aren’t served at disproportionate rates by ineffective, out-of- field, or inexperienced teachers, and the measures the Texas Education Agency will use to evaluate and publicly report the progress of the state educational agency in this area. 

Texas’s proposed plan provides that Texas has prioritized three priority contributing factors for the differences in proportionate rates of access to educators. 1) Insufficient training and support for teachers — between districts and within districts. 2) Insufficient training and support for campus leadership — between districts. 3) Alignment of districts systems for recruiting, developing, supporting, and retaining effective teachers and principals — between districts. The measure that TEA will use to evaluate and publicly report the progress of the state equity plan can be found here. (TCTA’s then-state president, Donna Corbin, served on the TEA stakeholder group charged with informing the development of the Equity Toolkit).

The plan provides that the strategies that will be used to address insufficient training and support for teachers are:

  • Continue to support the implementation of the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS);
  • Support the changes made to teacher preparation rules in the form of increased standards that were enacted during the 2016-17 school year;
  • Continue the implementation of the Educator Excellence Innovation Program (EEIP), a state funded grant program that provides funds for selected districts to pursue innovative strategies around recruiting and hiring, induction and mentoring, appraisal, professional development, career pathways, and strategic compensation;
  • Continue the implementation and expansion of Lesson Study, an inquiry based, job-embedded professional development process where teachers work collaboratively to develop, teach, and assess research-based lessons.

In addition, Texas’s proposed plan provides that Texas will use federal Title II, Part A funds to pursue two strategies: One is to fund the creation of the Texas Equity Toolkit (referenced above) and the other is to provide the skill development for principal supervisors.

However, ESSA provides that states may use Title II, Part A funds for a whole host of activities, including developing new teacher induction and mentoring programs, for which TCTA has consistently advocated as being a necessary and evidence-based strategy for improving teacher retention.

TCTA will be submitting comments on the proposed plan and encourages our members to do so as well. TCTA will continue to monitor and report on developments as they occur, including what’s included in the final plan once it’s approved by the U.S. Department of Education.