The Texas Commission on Next-Generation Assessments and Accountability (TCNGAA) held its seventh and final meeting July 27, 2016, with 10 of its 15 appointed members in attendance.

Preparation of the Report

Prior to the meeting TEA composed a draft report of recommendations from the group’s previous discussions. Commission members had the opportunity to submit edits and recommend changes to the report prior to the final meeting. Commission Chairman Andrew Kim, superintendent of Comal ISD, said the group would review each of the 14 recommendations in the draft report along with any accompanying edits suggested by members but would not make any substantive changes. Chairman Kim said there would be one vote at the end of the day on whether or not to approve the report in its entirety.

Chairman Kim also stated that there would be an appendix that would contain all recommendations not included in final report and asked that each member prepare a 200-word philosophy statement to be included as well.

Adoption of the Report

At the end of the meeting, the report was adopted with a 9-to-1 vote. Dr. Theresa Trevino, president of the Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA), said that even though she agreed with some of the recommendations she voted “no” because parents would not support a next-generation assessment program that continues to have high stakes for children (grade advancement requirements for students in grades 5 and 8, and passage of five end-of-course exams in order to graduate).

Although the group removed a sentence that would have called for the entire STAAR system to be replaced, the recommendations — compiled by the commission, which had limited opportunities to meet — should improve the current system and inch the state forward. Although the exact wording of the final report is not yet known, discussions that indicate the direction of the final recommendations are summarized as follows:

1. Implement an individualized, integrated system of multiple assessments using computerized, adaptive testing and instruction.
Discussion began with whether this concept should be moved to be part of the commission’s long-term vision, as members noted it would require legislative changes and allocations, time to look at structural support for campuses, and require a certain level of technology infrastructure.

The draft report originally included a sentence saying that this individualized system should replace the current system, and Trevino of TAMSA reminded the group of the June 2016 SBOE survey through which more than 27,000 stakeholders expressed unhappiness with the STAAR system. Texas State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, chair of the House Committee on Public Education, said that formative assessment is the wave of the future, but cautioned that tying such formative tests to the state accountability system could bring unintended consequences that lead to a new kind of high-stakes system.

The commission members agreed that the purpose of formative assessment was to provide diagnostic information and real-time feedback and it was not their intention to have it used otherwise. Because it could lead to misuse of the diagnostic tests, some members suggested striking the sentence calling for the formative test system to replace the current system and instead add the individualized testing system as a tool for determining student progress without having to report results to the state or include results in the state accountability system.

2. Allow the commissioner of education to approve locally developed writing assessments.
Members such as Paul Castro, superintendent of A+ Unlimited Charter School District, stressed that writing is a next-generation skill. Aycock said that he understood from previous discussions that the commission wanted to continue to test writing for state purposes but in a different manner than currently done in the STAAR system. Dr. Kim Alexander, superintendent of Roscoe Collegiate ISD, a member of the Texas High Performance School Consortium (THPSC), said that the spirit of this recommendation was to use local designs that transparently assess student writing, such as digital portfolios. Other commission members said they want the commissioner to provide a framework that districts must use for locally developed writing assessments.

3. Streamline the TEKS.
Commission member Erica Beltran, also a member of the State Board of Education (SBOE), said she wanted to add verbiage that made it clear that the SBOE is already working on the streamlining process.

4. Test only Readiness TEKS.
State Sen. Kel Seliger, chair of the Committee on Higher Education, told the group that he had tried to reduce the number of TEKS included on the STAAR with legislation that called for testing only the Readiness TEKS, but it proved to be too high of a hurdle. Commission members debated the pros and cons of testing only the Readiness standards and many noted that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires the state to include every TEKS on the state assessments, leaving no flexibility. (Note: The actual statutory language in ESSA says that state assessments shall “be aligned with the challenging State academic standards, and provide coherent and timely information about student attainment of such standards and whether the student is performing at the student’s grade level.” The term “aligned with” does appear to offer flexibility as to which TEKS are tested.)

State Sen. Larry Taylor, chair of the Senate Committee on Education, was not in attendance but had sent word with another commission member that he believes an important benefit to testing only Readiness standards would be reducing testing time. Alexander said that the intent of the THPSC’s original recommendation was to limit testing to only Readiness standards until the TEKS streamlining process was complete.

5. Add college-readiness tests to Domain IV indicators and fund, with state resources, a broader administration of college-ready tests.
Commission members indicated that this recommendation was not intended to replace end-of-course exams or other tests but rather to provide optional ways to assess postsecondary readiness.

6. Align the state accountability system with ESSA requirements.
Dr. Pauline Dow, chief instructional officer of North East ISD, and Alexander offered two significant suggestions to this recommendation. One was to remove reference to an A-F school/district rating system because such a system is not required by ESSA, and therefore not applicable as support for alignment between the two systems. They also supported the idea that “alignment” means limiting state tests to only those required by ESSA, stressing this was a reduction of high stakes, but not a reduction of high standards. Others offered a different interpretation of “alignment,” indicating the number of state tests and high stakes should not be reduced. It was unclear at the end of the conversation what the final report would include with regard to which portions of our accountability system would be aligned with ESSA.

7. Eliminate Domain IV from state accountability calculations for elementary schools.
The group discussed the lack of input, other than related to attendance, for elementary schools and did not feel that attendance was enough to warrant inclusion in the accountability determinations.

8. Place greater emphasis on growth in Domains I-III in the state accountability system.

Some members cautioned this could be an issue for districts whose students are already performing well and suggested the term “maintenance” be added to the recommendation so that districts that are already high performing are not penalized. Other discussion centered on not assigning a specific percentage to growth while still giving it the overall highest weight in Domains I-III.

9. Retain the Individual Graduation Committee (IGC) Option for graduation as allowed under current statute.

Trevino referenced a TAMSA survey and TEA data that show the IGCs didn’t automatically graduate every student eligible, implying that careful consideration was given when making decisions about these students. Dr. Criss Cloudt, TEA associate commissioner, Assessment and Accountability, told the group she had asked staff to flag the students who did graduate through an IGC to track next steps for those students such as college, CTE certification, etc. Commission Chairman Kim asked that rule language be added that would allow IGC committees for students trying to graduate under the TAKS system.

Considerations for Further Study

The commission members discussed five recommendations for future study. Alexander asked that language specifically referencing collaboration with the THPSC be added to a study on community-based accountability systems and another study on stratified random sampling as the THPSC has its continuing legislative charge to explore the development of innovative, next-generation learning standards and assessment and accountability systems.

Next Steps for the Final Report

The commission’s final report is due to the governor and Legislature by September 1, 2016. TASA will advise its members when the final report is available.