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April SBOE meeting begins with TEA discussion of testing out of Reading Academies

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Educator Preparation | Certification COVID-19 Curriculum | Instruction TEA | Commissioner | SBOE Educator Compensation | Benefits Testing | Accountability

Date Posted: 4/06/2022 | Author: Mark Wiggins

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff answered questions from members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) Wednesday about whether some teachers will be allowed to test out of the required Reading Academies training established by House Bill 3 in 2019.

As we reported here on Teach the Vote, TEA recently posted updated guidance regarding the Reading Academies, including a vague test-out option. SBOE Members Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) and Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) pushed the commissioner for clarity over whether a test out option would be made available to teachers. The commissioner answered the initial question about whether or not there would be a test out option with a simple, “Yes.” Asked for more detail on how the option might be structured, TEA staff stated individuals will have to obtain a written recommendation from their school district, pass a screener, and complete a couple of artifacts. Not explained by the agency or the commissioner were any limits on the number of educators who will be allowed to take advantage of the test out option.

Several members raised concerns about the time commitment required to complete the Reading Academies and the lack of compensation in many cases, despite lawmakers’ and stakeholders’ expectation that educators should receive a stipend if they are required to complete the training outside of the workday. The commissioner suggested that beginning next year, educator candidates who pass the Science of Teaching Reading (STR) exam may be able to earn credit for half of the Reading Academies training. The commissioner also indicated that the ultimate goal is to enable candidates to complete the materials from the Reading Academies during pre-service, but he did not offer concrete plans.

Members also questioned the commissioner over the Teacher Vacancy Task Force, which is tasked with understanding the challenges districts are facing relating to vacancies, sharing the best operational practices for addressing vacancy and shortage areas, developing recommendations for regulator or other policy changes for TEA, and providing feedback on TEA initiatives designed to help impact vacancies.

Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence) pointed out that the task force originally did not include any teachers. The commissioner stated the task force is expanding to include 24 additional teacher members, who will be drawn from all 20 education service center (ESC) regions. Commissioner Morath also told the SBOE teachers on the commission would be chosen from rural, urban, and suburban regions, from traditional and charter schools, from a variety of student populations served, and from diverse content, grade level, and placement area experience. The task force is expected to meet six times and share updates on its webpage after each task force meeting. A final report will be produced by March 2023.

According to the commissioner, Texas experienced the most significant disruption in teacher attrition since the great recession of circa 2009. Among the suggestions for improving retention, Morath suggested that novice teacher turnover could be reduced if preparation experience would more closely link to classroom experience, such as emphasizing classroom management. The commissioner also suggested that TEA is looking at Reading Academies and the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) as tools to reduce turnover—ideas that have been met with skepticism from educators.

Commissioner Morath began his presentation with the 2021 annual report on the state of public education in Texas, which showed 3rd and 8th Grade Math STAAR scores down double digits from the previous year. The percentage of students meeting grade level in math in all grades dropped to 35% from 50% before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Special education enrollment has risen to 11.3% from the single digits, when the state’s unusually low enrollment prompted a federal investigation that found Texas had under identified students who qualify for special education services.

The SBOE is scheduled this week to discuss various revisions to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) covering science, technology applications, and personal financial literacy, among others. The board will conclude its meeting Friday.


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