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Texas Education Commissioner Hopes for Permanent NCLB Waiver While Rolling Out Tougher Standardized Testing

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams expressed his hope that the feds will grant the state a permanent No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) waiver, a message buried within his weekend announcement about rolling out tougher criteria for the state’s annual standardized public and charter school testing.

Williams, who spoke at the Austin-held Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) conference, told attendees the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams are about to become harder to pass. This change, slated for two years ago, was shelved because student test scores stalled. Williams said the state will not remain at phase 1 for a fifth year. Ironically, the STAAR is the standardized test tied to state and federal accountability plus educator job performance evaluations that is, in part, at the center of the waiver debate.

Last week, the U.S. Education Department (USED) authorized a short-term NCLB waiver through the end of this school year, also placing the state on “high risk” status until Texas adopts the federally preferred principal and teacher evaluation tool — the Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS). The state piloted a similar metric, the Texas Teachers Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS), which contains the prized USED educator value-added measure (VAM), but state law prohibits the commissioner from forcing school districts and charter schools to adopt it.

“I don’t have that authority. I don’t want that authority. And I will not seek that authority,” Williams told TASA/TASB members to enthusiastic applause. “That is a decision that ought to be made by local superintendents and local school board members.”

However, educators are critical of teacher evaluations affixed to high-stakes testing. Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) president Noel Candelaria called the STAAR measurement changes “laughable.” He told Austin’s KXAN 7 the changes set up students and schools to fail partially because of the teach-to-the-test philosophy, also a big NCLB criticism. TSTA is affiliated with the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Agency (NEA). On Saturday, the NEA endorsed Hillary Clinton for president last week. She supports Common Core.

Meanwhile, Williams remains hopeful that Texas will get a permanent NCLB waiver since approximately 85 percent of the 1,200 public school districts and charter schools plan to implement T-TESS, even though the San Antonio Express News highlighted it is not mandatory to do so, even though the federal government tries to strong arm the state into compliance.

“We’re going to continue having that conversation with the national government,” the commissioner said regarding the NCLB waiver. Breitbart Texas reported that the NCLB waiver releases the state from fulfilling the former federal education mandate that students attain 100 percent reading and math proficiency. It also frees up how the state spends federal Title I funds on academic intervention programs for failing schools.

On Monday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) said that the STAAR changes should not come as a surprise to superintendents after four years. Also, Williams “advised several months ago that the state would be moving to the next higher standard,” they included in a statement. “Any time the state moves to a higher performance standard, a student must answer more questions in order to pass a STAAR exam. However, it should also be noted that each time the state has moved to a higher standard, educators and students have met the new mark.” TEA hopes to release more details about the updated passing standards shortly.

Currently, the state mandates students in grades 3-8 pass end-of-course STAAR to move onto the next grade while high school students take five year-end STAAR tests, although a new law allows high school students to graduate even when they fail two of the tests. It takes into account that not all students test well or have a bad test day and infuses other criteria on a case-by-case basis, which Breitbart Texas reported.

Now, more correct answers mean grade promotion but Texas also rolled out controversial new math standards that many feel resemble Common Core. One out of four 8th grade students failed last year’s new math STAAR test, according to TEA statistics. This year, 5th and 8th graders can take the new math tests up to three times before they are held back.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.

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