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October 21, 2008 (512) 463-0300

EDUCATION ACCOUNTABILITY PANEL LAYS OUT REFORM PLAN AT FINAL MEETING

(AUSTIN) -- The Select Committee on Public School Accountability held its final formal meeting Tuesday, laying out a plan for legislation aimed at changing how Texas measures achievement in education. The committee, comprised of lawmakers, teachers and private citizens from the business community, held hearings across the state to get recommendations from educators, administrators and parents on problems with the current accountability system, and ways to fix it. While members will continue to work on a proposal for Legislature next session, a basic framework for that legislation was described at Tuesday's meeting.

Testimony from across the state revealed a number of problems with the current accountability system. The committee decided that the current system places too much emphasis on a single test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. This over-reliance leads to a narrowing of the curriculum and instruction, commonly known as "teaching to the test", emphasizing minimum standards of achievement. Students are put under immense pressure to pass the test, as they can be held back a grade if they fail to meet minimum standards. The committee also found the current system has no mechanism to reward higher levels of achievement at both the district and campus level, lacks a clear and concise method to report results, and doesn't link long-term goals with future state workforce needs. "If the efforts of this committee fail, this is what we're going back to," warned committee co-Chair Representative Rob Eissler.

The committee report lays out a number of goals that any new accountability system must meet. The report says a new system should focus on individual student achievement, and preparing students for post-secondary education. It must have a way to recognize excellent performance, and must deliver robust and easy to understand results. Additionally, it must promote the efficient use of resources at the district and campus level. "We're at a point at which we can change the direction of public education and higher education in this state, if we put our resources in the right place at the right time with the right goals." said committee co-Chair Senator Florence Shapiro.

The new framework would create a two-tier system. The basic, or accreditation tier, would be based on student achievement at the post-high school level, or achievement growth of students based on a three-year rolling average. It would look at fiscal efficiency at the district level. The system would also get away from emphasizing minimum standards, and would seek to increase standards over the next ten years to a point when Texas would rate among the top ten states nationwide in college preparedness.

The second tier, called the distinction tier, would reward campuses and districts that rank in the top quarter in certain areas. Schools could earn this tier through individual student growth or excellence in a number of categories, including second language instruction, fine arts, and performance on standardized tests. District criteria would include financial efficiency and resource allocation.

The committee also laid out a framework for a new assessment test to replace the current TAKS test. Any new test must measure a broad range of skills, above minimum requirements, and passing standards should be geared toward post-secondary success rates. Students who fail to pass the test in grades 3, 5 and 8 would be offered supplemental instruction, and a student wouldn't be necessarily held back for failing a test.

The committee will continue to meet in work and discussion groups, in order to come up with specific legislation to change the state's accountability system. Both co-Chairs Eissler and Shapiro chair their respective chamber's education committees, the committees from which any such legislation would originate.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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