The Texas Senate early Thursday passed stripped-down versions of House bills that would address state standardized tests and how the state evaluates school districts and campuses starting in 2018.
House Bill 22, which passed 29-2, would reduce the number of categories from five to four in which schools and districts would be graded under the A-F accountability system. Those categories would evaluate how students perform on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, how schools and districts improve on the STAAR compared to similar campuses statewide, how schools and districts evaluate themselves on performance, and how schools and districts close academic gaps among racial and socioeconomic groups and students who are English and non-English speakers.
“The point of this is to have a true measure for our teachers, our districts, for our parents, and for the communities to know how their schools are doing,” said Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, who carried the changes to HB 22. “When all those people have a very clear picture of what’s going on in their district and they have very clear guidelines what it takes to improve, they all know what they need to work on.”
Taylor’s proposal pulls back on major changes that the House wanted to make to the A-F system in the original version of HB 22. The House had wanted to reduce the number of categories from five to three and remove an overall grade that schools and districts would receive. The House also wanted to postpone implementation until 2019.
The bill comes as school district officials have long complained that the A-F system, which was approved by the Legislature in 2015, was vague and unfairly penalized school districts with high numbers of low-income students. Criticism of the system became even more shrill when the state released A-F ratings of schools and districts in January to give officials a feel for what the system will be like when it’s implemented in summer 2018.
Other amendments the Senate tacked onto HB 22 would ensure that all schools and districts can mathematically receive an A and would establish a state commission to study school finance, which was originally a separate Senate bill that died in the House.
Also on Thursday, the Senate passed a stripped-down version of HB 515, which would have reduced the number of STAAR exams that students must take. Under the House’s version, the bill would no longer require fifth- and eighth-grade students to pass the STAAR test to move on to the next grade. It also would eliminate social studies STAAR tests in eighth grade and high schools. In high school, students instead would have to take the test required for American citizenship.
The Senate’s version of the bill would keep those tests and would require the State Board of Education to make sure that students in eighth through 12th grade have a sufficient understanding of U.S. history and civics. It also would require the Texas Education Agency to release every three years certain questions and answers to the STAAR exams.
HB 22 and HB 515 must now return to the House, where members will have to approve the changes the Senate has made before it goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his approval.