Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott was a no-show in a joint Texas House and Senate hearing on education Friday, leaving some legislators surprised and perhaps a little peeved.
“I don’t request his presence, frankly,” said state Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston. “He was invited; he made the decision, and he can’t be here, and that’s fine. It was never clear [before the hearing] that he wasn’t coming.”
Legislators met to discuss the progress of implementing a new testing system called State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, slated to replace the TAKS test next school year. The first few minutes of the session were spent noting Scott’s absence. Hochberg said the joint meeting was timed so that the commissioner could attend. But instead, the commissioner attended a daylong State Board of Education meeting, where Scott said he "had to be," and then later went to give a speech in Houston.
Another Democratic lawmaker, state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, also commented on Scott's absence. But the committee's chairwoman, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said she knew of Scott's intention to send subordinates to the meeting and told him it was fine. "Shapiro said I didn't have to be there," Scott told the Tribune's Elise Hu, at the SBOE meeting.
This is not the first time Scott and Hochberg have tangled on his absence from such sessions. The commissioner did not attend a July subcommittee hearing, to which Hochberg had invited him. The absence came at a time when Scott took heat for the controversial Texas Projection Measure, which awarded thousands of Texas schools higher state rating categories based on how well students will do on future tests. As previously reported, the projection formula has boosted ratings to the point where nearly three-fourths of Texas schools are now considered "recognized" or "exemplary."
There wasn't much discussion of the projection measure during today’s discussions on the state’s implementation of the education bill. The lawmakers heard updates from the Texas Education Agency, and they raised concerns that the new test failed to appropriately evaluate high-achieving students. Although the STAAR test will be tougher than the current test in ensuring students are on grade level, some legislators have asked the Education Agency to determine ways to test whether students are achieving beyond their grade level.
Hochberg said there were questions that could have been answered by the commissioner had Scott attended.
“I and several other members asked some big questions on the basic curriculum and how much testing we need," Hochberg said. "The commissioner needs to be in on those discussions.”