/CMSApp/TTV/media/Blog/TEA-Commissioner/Morath_SBOE_09-01-21.png?ext=.png /CMSApp/TTV/media/Blog/TEA-Commissioner/Morath_SBOE_09-01-21.png?ext=.png
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath addresses the State Board of Education, Sept. 1, 2021.

Commissioner tells SBOE to expect no changes to STAAR testing this year

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Teach the Vote

Texas Legislature COVID-19 Curriculum | Instruction TEA | Commissioner | SBOE Deregulation | Charter Schools School Safety Testing | Accountability

Date Posted: 9/01/2021 | Author: Mark Wiggins

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath said Wednesday he does not anticipate any changes to STAAR administration for the 2021-22 school year.

The statement came in response to a question by Member Sue Melton-Malone (R-Robinson) during the Wednesday, September 1, 2021, meeting of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Before taking questions from members, the commissioner provided an update on the toll the current surge in COVID-19 cases is taking on schools. Commissioner Morath acknowledged that the surge, which is being driven by the highly contagious delta variant, has resulted in individuals bringing active infections onto school campuses. The result “is having a very significant operational effect” on schools across the state, said Morath.

The commissioner followed this statement with a review of the losses to student achievement in reading and math because of full-time virtual instruction over the past year. To address the COVID-related learning losses, legislators during the 2021 regular session of included accelerated instruction strategies in House Bill (HB) 1525, which is the “clean-up” bill for the previous session’s school finance bill, HB 3 (2019).

Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) led off the questioning by asking for clarification over who will be eligible to receive full-time virtual instruction through Senate Bill (SB) 15, which has passed both chambers during the current special session and will expand virtual schools statewide, unrelated to the pandemic. Morath answered that eligibility for full-time virtual programs will be determined by local districts and charter schools under SB 15, and he drew a distinction between what schools are allowed to do under current law and what they will receive state funding for under SB 15. The bill will only provide state funding for full-time virtual instruction for up to 10% of a district’s or charter’s enrollment. The state will not fund students who did not fare well academically during the previous year of virtual school. The bill also exempts from the 10% cap districts and charters that admitted students from outside their district during the previous year. TEA is aware of about five districts and charters that meet this criterion and will be allowed to expand their virtual programs above the cap.

Tom MaynardMember Tom Maynard (R-Florence) asked the commissioner to clarify confusion over perceived discrepancies between Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning local mask requirements and the agency’s public health guidance. Morath noted that as a result of lawsuits challenging the executive order, the agency has been enjoined from enforcing the governor’s ban under multiple court orders that override the authority of both the agency and the governor.

Continuing on the subject of local mitigation strategies, Member Aicha Davis (D-Dallas) asked about federal flexibility given to school districts to set their own health policies. The U.S. Department of Education has opened investigations into five states that have prohibited schools from requiring masks, but the commissioner pointed out that Texas is not currently one of the states being investigated.

Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) shared a story about a teacher in the Rio Grande Valley who recently passed away after contracting COVID-19 on campus and pointed to recent headlines about a pair of teachers who fatally contracted the virus at a school in Waco.

Cortez announced that he had sent a letter asking Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Commissioner John Hellerstedt to add COVID-19 vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the list of required school immunizations and asked Morath if he had similar conversations with Dr. Hellerstedt. Morath answered that he has worked with DSHS on campaigns to promote immunization butRuben Cortez has not made such a request and does not have authority over those public health policy decisions.

Cortez also voiced concerns about the long-term consequences of SB 15 and asked the commissioner why TEA has declined to offer another set of “hold harmless” waivers similar to those issued last year to protect funding for schools that see declines in student attendance. The commissioner indicated earlier in the meeting that he believed HB 1525 prohibits the agency from taking such action again. ATPE notes that the commissioner’s interpretation is not at all clear from the bill language, and Morath has yet to explain the legal rationale behind this interpretation.

Member Pam Little (R-Fairview) asked about tutoring requirements under the COVID-19 remediation legislation and reports from parents that it has resulted in students having to drop elective courses. The commissioner said that practice is unlawful and recommended that parents utilize the local grievance process or the admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) process for students in special education.

The board is scheduled to resume review of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science this week, as well as look at the process for the next round of applicants seeking to open new charter school chains in Texas. The SBOE meeting concludes on Friday. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.



Yvette Milner

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