Morath tells SBOE he won’t cancel this spring's STAAR tests
School Finance TEA | Commissioner | SBOE Testing | Accountability
Date Posted: 1/27/2021 | Author: Mark Wiggins
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told the State Board of Education (SBOE) on Wednesday morning that he will not waive the spring STAAR administration, even if Texas were to receive a waiver of testing requirements from the U.S. Department of Education.
Commissioner Morath made the comments during a presentation to SBOE members at their January 27 meeting in Austin. Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) posed the question, asking the commissioner whether he would cancel the STAAR if Texas were to receive a federal waiver. Morath answered flatly, “No.”
Morath began his presentation discussing the annual report on public schools produced by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The commissioner said the top questions fielded by TEA staff this year relate to protecting school funding under House Bill 3 passed by the Legislature in 2019, the A-F accountability system, and the long-term picture for remote instruction “in terms of what’s allowed and how it’s funded.”
The agency remains committed to the “60x30” plan, based on the goal that 60% of Texans aged 25-34 have a certificate or degree by the year 2030. In order to reach this goal, the commissioner emphasized the importance of recruiting and retaining high-quality educators.
"The teacher in the classroom is the single most important in-school factor that affects student outcomes,” said Morath.
Transitioning to discussion of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the commissioner said data analysis conducted on optional beginning-of-year assessments completed by roughly 750,000 students suggested Texas students have suffered 3.2 months of learning loss as a result of spring school closures necessitated by the pandemic.
As schools transitioned to remote instruction, the agency launched “Operation Connectivity” aimed at closing the digital divide. The latest numbers indicate TEA has reimbursed school districts for purchases of 4.5 million devices, which Morath claimed “completely closed” the device gap. The commissioner conceded that internet access gaps still exist, particularly in remote rural areas of Texas.
Board members had the opportunity to question Commissioner Morath about a variety of topics. Board Chairman Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) and Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) pressed the commissioner over whether and when districts would be informed about an extension of a “hold harmless” provision for school funding through the end of the current school year.
TEA offered an initial hold harmless covering the fall 2020 semester to guarantee districts would receive the same amount of state funding they received the previous year, even if they faced declining student enrollment as a result of the pandemic. That hold harmless expired at the end of 2020, and districts now face the challenge of making spending plans without knowing how much funding they can expect to receive for the current semester.
Morath punted the question to the Legislature, although he said he hoped districts would get an answer in February. Pointing to a number of potential revenue sources, including $5.5 billion in federal relief for Texas K-12 schools promised under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), Morath added, "I'm feeling very positive about the financial picture for public education."
Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence) asked Morath whether there is any movement to get educators moved up in line for vaccines in order to facilitate resuming in-person instruction. ATPE has urged the state to include educators among the priority populations for vaccine access. The commissioner deferred Maynard’s question by saying those prioritization decisions are left up to the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP). School employees as a profession are not included in the Phase 1B group that currently has access to the vaccine.
The commissioner sidestepped several questions from Member Cortez regarding federal funding, including how the state intends to spend federal CRRSAA funds and how much CARES Act funding remains unspent. The commissioner suggested those funds will be spent as directed by appropriators in the Texas Legislature.
On student testing, Commissioner Morath again said legislators will determine whether to allow a waiver for end-of-course (EOC) examinations. In lieu thereof, students may utilize the Individual Graduation Committees (IGC) option that was established to facilitate an avenue for graduation for those who have failed one or more state-required exams.
Finally, the commissioner demurred when asked by Member Pam Little (R-Fairview) whether he has an opinion on the recent talk of transitioning Texas from attendance-based funding to enrollment-based funding. Morath answered there are pros and cons to each method.
Following the commissioner’s remarks, the board turned its attention to Wednesday’s agenda, which includes a discussion of graduation requirements and curriculum standards (TEKS) for high school science and social studies. Board committees will meet Thursday, and the board will conclude its January meeting on Friday, January 29.
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