This article appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of The Classroom Teacher

One of the signature pieces of legislation from the 2019 session, HB 3 was an enormously comprehensive school finance bill. It also includes a number of significant program provisions that will directly affect educators in the classroom.

The commissioner of education and the Texas Education Agency are charged with implementing many of the provisions of HB 3. TEA has been working on an implementation plan, releasing details on topics as they are developed. One of the key ways TEA has communicated developments is via its “HB 3 in 30” video series on its HB 3 webpage.

Beginning in June, TEA has released almost weekly videos and accompanying presentations on HB 3 topics, including teacher compensation, prekindergarten, reading practices, the teacher incentive allotment and additional school year days.

HB 3 also requires the commissioner to appoint advisory committees on several topics, including a Reading Standards K-3 Advisory Committee (members were named Oct. 17 and met Nov. 13-14); a Special Education Allotment Advisory Committee (members were named Nov. 7); a Compensatory Education Advisory Committee (members were named Nov. 7); and a Financial Aid Advisory Committee (applications accepted until spring 2020). These committees will be issuing recommendations and reports on their assigned topics.

Although much attention has been focused on the funding aspects of HB 3 (teacher compensation, recapture, full-day pre-K, compensatory education and bilingual education), some of the programmatic changes are worthy of attention.

Teacher incentive allotment/local teacher designation systems

HB 3 provides that a school district/open-enrollment charter school can adopt a local teacher designation system that classifies a certified classroom teacher as a master, exemplary or recognized teacher for a five-year period. Designations must be based on the results of single or multi-year appraisals that comply with T-TESS or a locally developed appraisal process. It also requires the commissioner to establish performance and validity standards for the designation systems. The performance standards must provide a mathematical possibility that all eligible teachers can earn a designation, and may not require a district to use a state assessment instrument to evaluate teacher performance. TCTA was instrumental in including this provision to prohibit the commissioner from requiring STAAR test results as a teacher performance standard.
The funding available for the teacher incentive allotment varies by designation:

  • Recognized teachers, $3,000 to $9,000 per teacher;
  • Exemplary teachers, $6,000 to $18,000 per teacher;
  • Master teachers, $12,000 to $32,000 per teacher.

Districts with designated teachers serving at rural schools and schools with high levels of socio-economic need will receive higher allotments. For example, an exemplary teacher at a rural school with the highest level of socio-economic need would get the full $18,000. However, a key point is that the funding does not go directly to the designated teacher. Rather, the funding goes to the teacher’s school district, with the requirement that the district must use at least 90% of the funds for teacher compensation on the campus where the designated teacher works. TEA said it plans to create a webpage with a searchable map so people can see the possible teacher incentive allotment funding per year.

Teachers holding National Board Certification will automatically earn a recognized designation, regardless of whether a district has developed/implemented a local teacher designation system. 

And importantly, TEA provides that if a designated teacher moves to a new district, the allotment funding will follow the teacher to the new district regardless of whether that district has an approved designation system in place. However, the allotment will be recalculated based on the location and the level of socio-economic need at the teacher’s new campus.

Finally, although TEA has not finished developing the program, nor have accompanying rules been proposed, TEA has provided that districts with existing programs meeting statutory and other requirements can apply for allotment funds during the 2019-20 school year; however, since most districts won’t be in this position, it is likely that the bulk of available teacher incentive allotment funding will be distributed starting in the 2020-21 school year.

TEA recently released more details about the required components for local designation systems, which are:

  • observation based on T-TESS or a locally developed rubric that the district shows evidence of being valid and reliable;
  • student performance measures determined by the district that the district shows evidence of being valid and reliable; and
  • optional additional factors (like teacher leadership, student surveys, etc.).

TEA also has identified possible student performance measures that districts could consider, including pre-and-post tests, value-added measures, portfolios, student learning objectives and standardized test results.

TEA is working with Texas Tech University to develop designation standards for the three teacher designation levels. According to TEA, the standards will encompass factors like the actions a teacher takes during lesson delivery at each level; and over at least the course of a school year, the impact teachers have on student performance.

Additional school year days

HB 3 provides a half-day formula funding incentive for districts or charter schools to offer an additional 30 instructional days in grades pre-K through 5. According to TEA, districts and charters will be eligible after they reach 180 instructional days and meet the minimum 75,600 minutes requirement, not including waivers, starting Sept. 1, 2020, through the end of the 2020-21 school year. TEA is promoting the idea that districts receiving the funding should use it, at least in part, on teacher salaries.
TEA provides three types of programs for districts to consider when using the incentive funding for additional days, including:

  • Optional Summer Learning
    • Purpose: Summer enrichment
    • Design: 180-day traditional calendar, plus up to 30 days for additional enrichment 
  • Intersessional Calendar
    • Purpose: Targeted remediation
    • Design: 180 days spaced out over the full year, with intermittent breaks for targeted remediation with a subset of students
  • Full-Year Redesign
    • Purpose: Rethinking the school day
    • Design: A revamped 7x6 weeks calendar, with daily schedule changes to increase teacher planning time and student play.

TEA, which is promoting this option in particular, will provide funding of up to $125,000 per district as a planning grant for those choosing the full-year redesign program for initial planning activities in spring/summer 2020.

Literacy achievement academies

HB 3 requires each classroom teacher and principal for grades K-3 to attend literacy achievement academies not later than the 2021-22 school year. New teachers subsequently must attend an academy prior to their first year of assignment in those grades.

TEA provided details of its plans for authorizing two models of literacy achievement academies in its Sept. 12 HB 3 video. The comprehensive model will be structured similarly to the current TEA-authorized reading academies, with 10 days of in-person training interspersed throughout 15 months, supported by job-embedded coaching. Participating teachers will be required to submit artifacts as part of the process. In the blended model, while participants work at their own pace, they will be required to demonstrate proficiency in each competency prior to moving ahead in the module. Participants using the blended model will grade artifacts based on competencies online or in person at associated reading academy providers. In December, TEA outlined a third model, based on stakeholder feedback. A district that already employs qualified staff who can act as reading academy cohort leaders can execute a memorandum of understanding with an approved provider in which the district pays the provider a flat fee per cohort leader instead of a fee for each participant to obtain the reading academy infrastructure and training.

Districts can choose which model their K-3 teachers and principals attend. Regardless of the model chosen, TEA anticipates that between the training and demonstrating understanding and application of concepts, it will take participants about 80 hours to complete the academies. Participants who fail to demonstrate proficiency or to complete the requirements can be re-enrolled in a new cohort.

Cohort leaders must meet certain TEA qualifications, including demonstrating proficiency via a centralized TEA screening, and have served as a teacher in grades K-5 for three or more years across their career (graduate level training and coursework may be substituted for K-5 experience). The final process for qualifying as cohort leaders will be released in January, with the application window opening March 9. Selected leaders will be notified in April ahead of training in May or June. 

According to TEA, all K-3 teachers and principals must register for the literacy academies, though skilled participants may test out of modules. Teachers who participated in the 2018-2019 READ Grant can count their participation toward the HB 3 literacy requirement. TEA also intends to propose rules to temporarily exempt special area teachers from the requirement to attend the literacy achievement academies (including art, music and physical education teachers).  

The online modules for literacy achievement academies are in development. Providers will be selected in February, and provider training begins in March. Although the timeline for participant registration has not yet been established, TEA anticipates eligible teachers and principals can begin registration this spring for cohorts with a summer 2020 start. Additional cohorts will enroll on a quarterly basis. School districts receive several new funding sources in HB 3 that can be used to support reading instruction, including paying for teacher attendance at reading academies. TEA strongly encourages school districts to structure the reading academies within designated campuswide professional development and/or professional learning community days to ensure that staff has ample opportunity to complete the required content and to keep costs down. Teachers and principals must be enrolled in an academy by summer of 2022 to meet HB 3’s requirements. For more information about the literacy achievement academies, click here.

Assessment

Going into the 2019 legislative session, one of the chief complaints about the state’s student assessment system, STAAR, centered on the issue of “readability”, i.e. that STAAR passages are written at a difficulty level higher than the appropriate reading level for students in that grade. The legislature responded to this concern by including provisions in HB 3 that require the commissioner to study grades 3-8 STAAR exams used in 2018-2019 and in 2019-2020 to examine whether the assessments are written at an appropriate reading level, whether they only include content aligned with TEKS for that or earlier grades, and whether they only include passages written at the reading level or below for the grade level taking the assessment. TEA contracted with the University of Texas at Austin to conduct the study. The report on 2018-19 STAAR tests was released in early December. It found that the vast majority of passages in that year’s reading and writing exams were within or below the test’s grade level, and that most questions aligned with what the state expects students to learn in each subject. The report on 2019-20 STAAR tests will be released by Feb. 1, 2020.  

Other assessment legislation

One of the key assessment bills passed during the 2019 session was HB 3906. It includes a number of significant changes to the design of and approach to student testing, some in response to complaints from parents and educators. Although many of the changes will go into effect in the next couple of years, TEA and others are making plans for implementation. For example, HB 3906 requires the commissioner to appoint several advisory committees regarding assessments, including: 

  • A Technical Advisory Committee that includes national experts on assessment design and psychometrics to give advice regarding the development of valid and reliable state assessments (this is an existing committee); 
  • An Educator Advisory Committee, which must include experts in curriculum and instruction, to advise on the development of academically appropriate assessment instruments.

According to TEA, the 25-30 member committee will include content experts and individuals with experience supporting special populations, including K-12 educators, K-12 administrators, and higher education representatives. Nominations for this committee were solicited this summer and members were to be named in December. 
These committees soon will be engaged in advising the commissioner and TEA regarding many provisions of HB 3906. 

One of those provisions allows for state assessments to be administered in multiple parts over multiple days, to create flexibility for school districts in scheduling. The bill provides that 85% of students in grades 3 and 4 must be able to complete each part within 60 minutes; and 85% of students in grades 5-8 must be able to complete each part within 75 minutes. Additionally, the law continues to require that these tests cannot exceed 8 hours. (Note: These provisions do not apply if as a result of the required time restriction, the test would no longer comply with federal law or be valid and reliable based on findings of the assessment advisory committees.) The bill also allows end-of-course exams to be administered over more than one day. TEA says it is working with school districts this year to design implementation of a multi-part summative assessment and that it expects to make these assessments optionally available to school districts in the 2020-21 school year.

Eliminating stand-alone writing assessments

Another major change in HB 3906 is the elimination of stand-alone writing assessments in grades 4 and 7 beginning in 2021-22. However, the federal government requires Texas to assess all students in writing in grades 3-8 because the former reading/language arts TEKS included writing. Since the new English language arts and reading TEKS are designed to support an integrated approach to the teaching of reading and writing, TEA is updating the reading test design to include a few questions designed to assess student expectations in writing in grades 3-8. Some of these writing items are being field tested in reading assessments this school year.

HB 3906 also requires that TEA, in consultation with the State Board of Education, develop a transition plan to administer all assessment instruments electronically beginning not later than the 2022-23 school year. TEA is exploring partnerships with universities to conduct a statewide feasibility study. Results are due by December 2020.