Education Commissioner Mike Morath previewed two major changes to the state's student accountability assessments during the State Board of Education's June meeting in Austin. TEA is preparing to incorporate writing into the grades 3-8 STAAR reading tests and eliminate the use of substitute assessments, such as the SAT or ACT, in the state's accountabilty system.

STAAR changes

Morath told board members that recently passed legislation, HB 3906, phases out the 4th and 7th grade writing tests over the next three years. New English language arts and reading TEKS are designed to support an integrated approach to the teaching of reading and writing. Accordingly, TEA will update the STAAR test design for reading to include a few questions designed to assess student expectations in writing in grades 3-8. He said this change will be integrated with another change prompted by the passage of HB 3906, breaking the STAAR exam into parts, so that each part will remain short while covering the breadth of both reading and writing standards.

Morath explained that TEA is taking this approach due to a December 2016 U.S. Department of Education peer review of Texas’ state assessment system. The review noted that Texas was not able to demonstrate that its test design was tailored to the specific knowledge and skills in the state academic content standards with regard to its reading/language arts standards. Specifically, since the reading/language arts TEKS include writing, Texas must demonstrate that students are assessed in writing in grades 3-8, instead of just grades 4 and 7.

Substitute assessments eliminated

Regarding the use of substitute assessments for accountability purposes, Morath noted that, following a December 2018 monitoring visit from the U.S. Department of Education, the department issued an action item requiring Texas to stop allowing the use of substitute assessments for accountability (for example, a student could take the SAT or ACT in lieu of an end-of-course (EOC) exam and this would be reflected in the school and district’s accountability calculation).

According to the commissioner, TEA extensively explored options and determined that state policy on substitute assessments cannot be fully reconciled with federal ESSA requirements because the TEKS would need to sufficiently align with nationally-recognized assessments, like the SAT or ACT, and the current alignment estimate is only approximately 30%. He additionally noted that the current EOC framework would have to be abandoned and replaced with a current multi-course exam.

Accordingly, he announced that beginning with the 2020 accountability cycle, substitute assessments will not be included in state or federal accountability calculations. However substitute assessments will continue to be an option for students to meet graduation requirements. A June 20, 2019, letter to administrators explains the issue more fully. Click here to read Morath's letter.