What everyone can learn from the Texas ESSA state plan

Education officials in Texas put a lot of work into the Every Student Succeeds Act state plan that they submitted to the Department of Education. We can all learn from what they included and what they chose not to include.

The Texas plan is supported by the strategic priorities of the Texas Education Agency (TEA). These priorities

include: (1) recruiting, supporting, and retaining teachers and principals; (2) building a foundation of reading and math; (3) connecting high school to career and college; and (4) improving low-performing schools. TEA acknowledges these priorities require support and therefore list three prerequisites referred to as “enablers” for effective implementation of these strategies. These enablers include: (1) increased transparency; (2) ensuring compliance; and (3) the strengthening of organizational foundations.

Overall, Texas’s plan is designed to implement ESSA as Congress intended; allocating resources and funds according to need, closing the achievement gap, and increasing community partnerships. TEA states several long-term goals. The first, being that by the year 2030, sixty percent of Texans aged 25-34 will possess some form of post-secondary credentials. Another long-term goal is a 94 percent high school graduation rate. For English Language Learners, TEA proposes that by 2032, forty-six percent of students should be achieving English language proficiency. To support these long-term goals, Texas has established short-term targets in five-year intervals.

A major component of equitable resource allocation is the collection of data. TEA evaluates academic performance by ethnicity, economically disadvantaged, students receiving special education services, students formerly receiving special education services, English learners, continuously enrolled, and mobile. The minimum size for subgroup data reporting is 25. Data for subgroups 10 or smaller will be calculated using a three-year composite score. Considering the population of Texas metropolitan areas, it seems the subgroup size of 25 is appropriate. TEA will also periodically review the resource allocation process for local education agencies; which could include a review of per-pupil spending.

ESSA requires that schools use three academic measures and one non-academic school quality or student success measure to determine school achievement. TEA has chosen to use the “percentage of assessments at or above the Meets Grade Level standard for all students and student groups by subject” as their school quality and student success measure for elementary and secondary schools. For high schools, TEA will use college, career, and military readiness to include: students who earn dual credits; students who successfully complete AP Exams, students who are awarded associate’s degrees while in high school, students who enlist in the military, etc. These “non-academic” indicators are disappointing since the U.S. Department of Education encourages less emphasis on testing. Four of the six indicators of school success identified by TEA include an element of testing. Students deserve holistic education that values social development as well as academic achievement. Primarily focusing on test scores as a means of determining success devalues other important categories of intelligence, such as musical-rhythmic and harmonic abilities.

Texas does deserve praise for their inclusion of a “Closing the Gaps Domain” in their A-F accountability system. The Closing the Gaps Domain focuses on educational equity for all children; irrespective of ethnicity, economic status, or special education status. The Closing the Gaps domain must represent at least 30 percent of the overall school rating. Any school that has one or more significant gaps in achievement between subgroups will be identified for targeted support and improvement. TEA will also use a ranking system; comparing school progress to other schools with similar student demographics.