It comes as a surprise to many that there is currently much more substantive policy work underway in Texas than during the legislative session. In fact, someone sent me a list that indicated a total of over 20 appointed or elected boards, commissions, and committees, not including the interim legislative committe work, have been authorized by the legislature to strategize on means by which public education policy can be enhanced to impact the quality of student achievement. I serve on one of those, the High School Completion and Success Initiatives Council, charged with the responsiblity to draft a strategy for the Texas Education Agency to use in allocating resources to the various initiatives designed to improve the post-secondary readiness of our children.
In addition, the organization I chair, the Texas Institute for Education Reform (TIER), www.texaseducationreform.org, is involved with all of the more critical policy issues that are the subject of the other boards and commissions. Of these, the one that is occupying the most significant part of our time is the Select Committee on Public School Accountability, which has been charged with the responsibility to develop recommendations to the legislature on the restructure of the Texas school accountability system–a pretty hot ticket, needless to say.
In this regard, TIER was asked to submit testimony at the April meeting of the Committee in San Antonio, and I thought my brief remarks preceding a panel discussion might be of interest, since they touch on the critical elements of the issue:
Texas has been a national leader in public school standards and accountability-based reform for over 20 years, and our system has been properly credited for significantly improving student performance and closing the achievement gap between student groups. This system has served us well, but it is now time to step back, take a long look at our needs for the new century, and create the next generation of accountability for Texas that will keep it in the forefront of student achievement growth. We should use this opportunity to strengthen and streamline standards for student learning, student assessments, data systems, school and district ratings, and the rewards, sanctions, and interventions for student, school, and district performance. TIER believes that the benefits of a good public school accountability system break down into three essential components: · Transparency – for parents and communities to know in simplest terms how their schools are serving their children so that they can make the right choices for their benefit.· Diagnostics and tools – for educators so that they can make the necessary adjustments to correct underachievement in student outcomes.· Consequences – for students in terms of promotion and graduation; for educators in terms of compensation and employment; for schools and districts in terms of accreditation. Various groups and advocates would weight these factors differently. For TIER, it seems that they should have approximately equal weight. Some believe that the current system is much too punitive and that high stakes consequences should play a much smaller role. But we believe that this is a high stakes world, and that without real consequences there is no accountability. TIER has recently completed a comprehensive paper, now available on our web site, outlining our views on the next generation of accountability for Texas. Our vision for the next generation of accountability is built upon ten principles explained in our paper. I won’t cover them all, but will briefly touch on the more important ones. (1) Most important and possibly most revolutionary – Make postsecondary readiness for all students the goal of accountability. Let me make this clear: postsecondary success for all, defined as the range of academic, workforce, and social proficiency that high school students should acquire to successfully transition to skilled employment, advanced military training, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or technical certification. For policy, this means multiple pathways, one standard, equal rigor. For accountability, it follows that schools and districts should be rated and accredited annually on the basis of increasing the percentage of students progressing toward and reaching this postsecondary readiness standard. (2) We must have sound statistical design of our assessments, which means that they must measure the full range of student performance, the value-added to each student’s achievement during the year, and each student’s progress, or growth toward the exit standard of postsecondary success. (3) The accountability system must be based on sufficient capacity and resources to enable schools to succeed. This encompasses, for example, the data system enhancements contemplated by HB 2238 from the 80th legislative session, but also entails more investment at the district level. And in case you think I am completely out of character, I don’t have in mind across the board formula increases, but rather targeted programmatic funding that is designed to meet the technological and human resource needs of districts as well as enable innovation so that they can meet much higher standards of performance. (4) I have already touched on consequences, which are an absolutely essential principle, so I won’t belabor the point, except to add that the consequences we have in mind are not all negative; they emphasize incentive based compensation for the more effective educators based on value-added assessment. (5) Accountability must be a state/local partnership. We must have the involvement of all stakeholders because the final implementation will be executed only by the professionals in our school buildings. Finally, although not directly a component of your work, I want to comment on curriculum standards, the enhancement of which is an absolute prerequisite for its success. Everything we are doing in enhancing accountability systems will be useless if we do not get our Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards right. We all know that they are not nearly rigorous enough, not objective enough, not measurable, and not well aligned from grade to grade. And they are the platform for the entire edifice—the curriculum, the assessments, the accountability. So I would simply urge this body to send a message to the current TEKS revision deliberations underway at the State Board of Education to get it right, and very soon; otherwise, very little else matters.