*Clarification appended 

The Texas House passed a major overhaul Wednesday of a rating system that would give schools and districts grades between A and F.

Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, proposed House Bill 22 as a way to get more superintendents and teachers to support the new A-F accountability system, slated for implementation in 2018. Huberty accepted more than a dozen amendments to the bill proposed by fellow representatives, which were intended to make the graded system more understandable and palatable to educators and parents.

"We wanted to solve the problem of accountability in the state of Texas," Huberty said.

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The bill passed quickly, without a record vote. House members still must take a final vote on the bill. (Update May 4: HB 22 passed on the final vote 146-0)

House members Wednesday also voted 138-1 to pass Rep. Gary VanDeaver's House Bill 515 to roll back high-stakes testing, in part by eliminating two standardized exams currently required or suggested for graduation. One of those exams, U.S. History, was replaced with a civics exam, following an amendment to the bill by Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin.

 

The bill would reduce the number of standardized tests to the minimum number allowed by federal law, Van Deaver said Wednesday. According to the Legislative Budget Board, eliminating other state exams, such as writing, could cost Texas millions in federal dollars.

Anti-testing advocates argued the final version of the bill did not go far enough to eliminate tests. “While the bill does make progress by eliminating the need for 5th and 8th graders to retake English and math tests if they do not meet standards, the Texas STAAR testing system would still make students take six more tests than are mandated” by federal law, said Theresa Trevino, president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment.

In 2015, legislators changed the system for rating schools and districts, from a pass/fail system to an A-F letter grade system. Educators argued the proposed grades were too reliant on standardized tests and did not adequately represent school achievement.

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The original proposal for the new graded system would give schools and districts letters in five categories: student performance on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exam, student progress on STAAR, closing the achievement gap, college and career readiness, and community engagement.

HB 22 would roll back those categories to just three: student achievement, student progress and school climate.

Districts would also be able to use locally selected exams, not just the STAAR, as a factor in their grades.

It would require grading schools on factors beyond standardized tests, including student participation in fine arts and extracurricular activities. It would also delay implementation of the new system from 2018 to 2019 and require the state to release two preliminary reports with unofficial grades for each school and district.

School superintendents have been open to the changes proposed in this bill, but many would prefer having no graded system for rating their schools.

Its companion bill was heard, but not voted on, in the Senate Education Committee late last week. The Senate's version would also compress the five categories into three, but it would not delay the rollout of the A-F system or allow schools to use local alternatives to standardized tests.

Supporters of the current proposed A-F rating system argue the changes proposed in the bill will dilute the mechanism for judging whether schools are educating students.

"We're hopeful that today's House proceedings weren't an effort to avoid thoughtful, productive dialogue about the importance of accountability in school quality," said Courtney Boswell, executive director of Texas Aspires, a nonprofit advocating for more testing and stricter accountability. "As HB 22 makes its way through the legislative process, there is still a chance to make meaningful collaborative improvements in the A-F system to benefit students."

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The passage of these bills cutting back the high-stakes nature of standardized testing comes on a day when the state removed student performance on standardized tests from consideration in teacher evaluations, following a lawsuit.

“Tying teacher evaluations to test scores only raises the stakes on STAAR testing, unnecessarily raising the stress level of children and teachers alike and angering parents,” said Noel Candelaria, president of the Texas State Teachers Association.

The Texas Education Agency said in a written statement that the legal agreement with the teacher organizations will allow school districts flexibility in how to use student growth to measure teachers’ performance.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Clarification: This article was expanded on May 4 to clarify House Bill 515's potential impact on the number of required tests and include comment from Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment.

 

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