After TEA submitted its final State ESSA Plan on March 6, 2018, the U.S. Department of Education moved quickly to approve it on March 26. In a press release announcing the approval, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos noted that “Texas’ plan met the requirements of the law, therefore I have approved it." DeVos added, "I look forward to seeing how Texas embraces the flexibility afforded by ESSA to innovate on behalf of the Lone Star State’s students.”
The approval culminates a long and arduous process in which, due to ongoing negotiations with USDE, TEA submitted three different versions of the state plan before it was finally approved.
Among the major sticking points between TEA and USDE were:
Initially, TEA was trying to tie HB 22’s new A-F accountability system and ESSA requirements together, in an effort to avoid the situation Texas had under the No Child Left Behind Act, ESSA’s predecessor, in which schools received two different accountability ratings based on different measures. This caused a great deal of confusion for parents and the public.
HB 22 requires that the state accountability system be comprised of three domains:
ESSA requires that the state accountability system include certain indicators. TEA included all the ESSA-required accountability indicators in Domain 3. Those indicators are:
Academic Achievement Indicator, which Texas has defined to be Academic Achievement in Reading and Math STAAR (percentage of assessments at/above Meets Grade Level for all students/subgroups);
Other Academic Indicator (for elementary and middle school), which Texas has defined to be growth on STAAR Reading and Math over a two-year period;
Graduation Rates, as defined by ESSA;
English Learner Language Proficiency, which Texas has defined to be the TELPAS progress rate; and
School Quality/Student Success indicator(s)(SQSS), which Texas defines as:
TEA’s choice of the SQSS indicator for elementary and middle schools was a disappointment, given that ESSA listed several non-test-based measures that could qualify, including educator/student engagement and school climate/safety. TCTA had recommended both of those measures in our comments on the state's original ESSA plan submission. In those comments, we pointed out that this would be an excellent opportunity to focus on incorporating school quality indicators (like a validated school climate survey measuring student/educator engagement and school climate/safety) into the accountability system. We noted that a key advantage to using such an indicator is that it can be applicable to all grade levels, and administered statewide.
Unfortunately, TEA’s decision to stick with test-based measures means that elementary and middle school accountability will be based entirely on student performance on state tests, a long-standing point of contention for many educators and parents.
HB 22 also requires that a school’s/district’s accountability rating be based in part on the better score of Domains 1 or 2. However, ESSA requires that schools must be evaluated on ALL the indicators in the state accountability system, which would not be possible under HB 22, since, for example, a school which scored better in Domain 1 would not be rated based on the indicators in Domain 2.
ESSA provides that its required indicators must have significant weight in the state accountability system. Since most of the ESSA-required indicators were only in Domain 3, which only accounts for 30 percent of a school’s overall grade, they wouldn’t receive substantial weight.
Accordingly, TEA and USDE agreed that Domain 3 would be considered “the state accountability system” for purposes of ESSA’s requirements and TEA made changes in its final plan to reflect that.
In describing its system of annual meaningful differentiation of all public schools in the state, including a description of how the system is based on all indicators in the state’s accountability system for all students and for each subgroup of students, Texas’s final ESSA Plan provides:
“The Closing the Gaps domain ensures students are doing well regardless of racial group, special education status, and socioeconomic status for all indicators required by state law and ESSA including English language proficiency and school quality indicator for elementary and secondary schools that are not high schools. The domain includes requirements to track the performance of former special education students as well as students who are mobile versus those who are continuously enrolled.”
ESSA requires that states set interim targets/long-term goals for 11 student subgroups for certain ESSA-required indicators (Academic Achievement, Graduation rate, and English Learner Language Proficiency). Accordingly, included in the final State ESSA Plan is a chart showing all the interim targets/long-term goals for each of the 11 student subgroups.
In describing how the weighting of the Academic Achievement, Other Academic, Graduation Rate, and Progress in ELLP indicators each receive substantial weight individually and, in the aggregate, much greater weight than the School Quality or Student Success indicators, in the aggregate, Texas’s final ESSA Plan provides:
Weighting of Indicators:
Elementary/Middle Schools Weight
High schools/Districts Weight
Identifying lowest 5% of schools for comprehensive support
Another consequence of TEA’s and USDE’s agreement to apply ESSA requirements to Domain 3 only is that only schools’ Domain 3 score will be used to identify the lowest performing 5 percent of schools for ESSA-required comprehensive support. TEA’s final plan provides that the Domain 3 score will be computed based on the following:
The final plan provides that in order to exit Comprehensive Support Status, schools that do not rank in the bottom 5 percent of the Closing the Gaps domain for two consecutive years and have increased a letter grade (for example, from F to D or from D to C) on the Closing the Gaps domain will be considered as having successfully exited.
The agreement between USDE and TEA also means that some of the indicators that are used in Domains 1 and 2 that are duplicative of ESSA’s required indicators in Domain 3 will have different definitions. For example, state law requires that graduation rates be calculated using a National Center for Education Statistics definition of “dropout”, excluding students in special situations, and providing for the use of 5- and 6-year adjusted cohort graduation rates. However, federal law requires a different definition of the graduation measure that does not allow for exclusions, nor include the NCES definition, and places burdensome requirements on states using 5- and 6-year adjusted cohort graduation rates. Accordingly, “graduation rate” for purposes of Domain 1 will be the state definition and for purposes of Domain 3 will be the federal definition.
Another example is the requirements for including English language learners’ performance in the accountability system. Texas law is more generous than ESSA in allowing schools to exclude ELLs from the state accountability system (for example, it allows schools to exclude unschooled asylees/refugees in their first-fifth year of enrollment). ESSA says a state can exclude them the first year of enrollment but has to include them thereafter. Accordingly, TEA included in its final plan that performance results for English learners in their second year of enrollment in U.S. schools will be included in the accountability system based on an EL Progress Measure; however, since TEA is still in the process of developing and field-testing the measure, TEA has indicated that it will seek a federal waiver to allow Texas not to include second-year ELL performance for this coming school year. However, the EL Progress Measure will be used for second-year ELLs thereafter.
As mentioned above, ESSA requires states to set/describe long-term targets/interim goals for certain of the ESSA-required indicators, including the Academic Achievement indicator, Graduation Rate indicator, and English Learner Language Proficiency indicator, for 11 student subgroups. These requirements only apply to Domain 3, given that USDE and TEA agreed that ESSA requirements will only apply to Domain 3. However, Domain 3 in Texas‘s final ESSA plan provides long-term/interim goals for all indicators, including the Other Academic Indicator for elementary and middle school, and School Quality/Student Success.
Texas ran into trouble with its original proposal to use the percentage of all students/student subgroups achieving the “Approaches Grade Level” standard on all STAAR tests as its Academic Achievement Indicator. USDE questioned TEA’s assertion that “Approaches Grade Level” is proficient, noting that TEA described this level in its original plan as one standard deviation below the Meets Grade Level standard. USDE pointed out that ESSA requires that the interim targets/long-term goals for this indicator be measured by grade-level proficiency, and only on annual state reading/language arts and math assessments.
Accordingly TEA submitted a revised plan providing that the measure for the Academic Achievement indicator will be achievement outcomes on STAAR reading and math for grades 3-8 and EOC assessments in ELA/reading and mathematics, calculated as the percentage of assessments at or above the Meets Grade Level standard (proficiency) for all students and student groups by subject. The revised plan described the new long-term goal as 30 percent growth by 2032 over baseline scores from the 2016-17 school year. This did not satisfy USDE, which pointed out that using this method did not do enough to close achievement gaps, since all student subgroups would be required to grow by the same amount from their baseline scores.
As a result, Texas’s final ESSA plan provides that the distance between each student subgroup’s baseline score and what it will take to reach 100% divided by two would be the determinate of how much growth a student subgroup must achieve. This means that student subgroups with lower baseline scores, such as African-American, Hispanic, educationally disadvantaged, ELL, and special education, will have significant growth expectations by the years 2027-2032.
For example, for the Reading STAAR:
For the graduation rate indicator, TEA’s final plan provides that “High schools and school districts that do not meet the long-term graduation rate goal must meet the interim target for the four-year graduation rate." The long-term statewide goal for the four-year graduation rate is 94 percent. Student groups that are at or above interim or long-term targets will be required to exceed that rate in the following year(s). For the Four-Year Graduation Rate Interim Target, the final plan provides that beginning with the Class of 2017, the four-year graduation target is 92 percent and will raise by two percentage points over five-year intervals.
For the English Language proficiency indicator, the final plan provides: “Beginning next school year, TEA will administer a new form of the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS). In anticipation of the new exam, TEA is proposing achievable, but ambitious, targets for the new TELPAS administrations in campuses and districts based off historical trends when administering a new assessment.” Texas set a long-term goal of 46 percent of students making progress in achieving English language proficiency by the year 2032.
Finally, in response to USDE’s critique of Texas’ original plan that it failed to describe the extent, if any, to which low-income and minority children enrolled in Title I schools are served at disproportionate rates by ineffective, out-of field, or inexperienced teachers, Texas’ final plan provides the following:
“In analyzing the out-of-field data for the 2016-2017 school year, TEA did not find gaps between Title I campuses and non-Title I campuses, nor did it find gaps between the highest quartile Title I campuses and non-Title I campuses as it relates to both low-income and minority students." Texas’s final Plan provides that the way the out-of-field gap will be calculated is to:
In analyzing the teacher experience data for the 2016-2017 school year, TEA did find gaps between Title I campuses and non-Title I campuses, noting a gap of "approximately 5.35 percent of full-time teachers on Title I campuses...in their first two years of teaching when compared to non-Title I campuses. When comparing the highest quartile Title I campuses as they relate to low-income and minority status to non-Title I campuses, the gap widens to approximately 8.53 percent and 7.37 percent, respectively.” Texas’ final plan provides that the way the experience gap will be calculated is to:
In analyzing the teacher effectiveness based on student growth on state assessments for the 2016-17 school year (regardless of whether a Title I school), TEA also found a 5 percent gap between white and minority students, and an 8 percent gap between non-low-income students and low-income students. The final plan provides that TEA will analyze these gaps based on “student academic growth based on state assessments.” It further provides that the steps it will take to calculate gaps are:
In other forums, TEA indicated that the way it will make this calculation is to start with individual student data for each student and then aggregate up to the state level to identify any state-level gap.
ESSA requires states to continue the same professional standards for Title I paraprofessionals that were in place under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Paraprofessionals whose duties consist solely of parental involvement activities or translation services are exempt from the qualification requirement.
ESSA required that states implement its accountability and assessment requirements starting in the 2017-18 school year. TEA published its 2018 A-F Accountability Manual for public comment in July. The manual was finalized in August, when A-F grades were first be issued to school districts based on the new system. Met Standard/Improvement Required grades were issued to campuses for the last time.
Since the 2018-19 school year, the state must identify for comprehensive support and improvement at least the lowest-performing 5% of schools in the state, all public high schools failing to graduate one-third or more of their students, and schools in which any subgroup of students would on its own fall under the lowest-performing 5% of schools in the state.