House Bill 4545 was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 16 and “establishes new requirements for accelerated instruction for students who do not pass the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR),” according to the Texas Education Agency.
Northwest ISD Superintendent Ryder Warren was candid about what he sees as the challenges of implementing HB 4545.
“No. 1, we don’t even know how to make this work yet,” Warren said Aug. 9 during a presentation to the board of trustees. “And No. 2 is, I don’t know if I want to because I think this is going to end up hurting children.”
On July 26, Keller ISD board of trustees President Ruthie Keyes questioned the feasibility of implementing the legislation during a board meeting.
“I don’t know how this is possible,” Keyes said.
The bill requires any student who did not pass a STAAR exam in grades 3-8, or an end-of-course assessment at the high school level, to receive accelerated instruction in one of two forms: students can receive instruction from a certified master, exemplary or recognized classroom teacher, or they must receive 30 hours of tutoring for each test failed.
For eighth graders, for example, that could mean up to 120 hours for the four exams those students took this past spring if they did not pass.
The first option presented in the bill bypasses the 30-hour requirement, but it is based on the Teacher Incentive Allotment program passed by the Legislature in 2019. School districts were able to implement their own versions of the program, but it can be a time-consuming process, according to Travis Whisenant.
Whisenant, the instructional services director for Education Service Center Region 11—a regional TEA office that includes KISD and NISD in its service area—said most districts had not made much headway into the process when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He added that, statewide, there are fewer than 5,000 teachers with the designations.
Officials from KISD and NISD confirmed their districts have not implemented the TIA program.
That leaves tutoring, which can occur during or outside of the normal school day. It comes with a required ratio of no more than three students per tutor—unless waived by the student’s parents or guardian.
The ratio is viewed as one of a handful of complicating logistical factors.
“I think the biggest challenge would be just with staffing, especially for some of our smaller districts that might not have the staffing for a 3-to-1 ratio,” said Elizabeth Schrader, an assessment and accountability specialist for Education Service Center Region 11. “And then I think a lot of the challenge, too, is with the scheduling, because one of the things in the statute is that they aren't allowed to remove [students] from foundation classes, enrichment classes or PE [during the school day].”
Jennifer Price, KISD executive director of curriculum and instruction, said that if enough parents waive the 3-to-1 ratio, the district will have an easier time scheduling the tutoring during the school day. Districts are also looking at options for before school, after-school and Saturday school to get the hours accomplished by summer 2022.
The nontraditional hours can be problematic, though, especially for older students, Price said.
“They might be in band, or they're in a sport or fine arts—that becomes really difficult,” Price said. “Even at the younger grades, they have after-school activities. ... Not all kids can stay after school or come before school.”
However, even with some parents waiving the requirement, another challenge for districts is finding staff to account for the volume of hours. KISD, for instance, had 5,910 students who did not pass one or more STAAR assessments.
“If we're having trouble getting that [tutoring] done during the instructional day, then teachers have volunteered to tutor [outside of normal hours], and we're reaching out to retired teachers [to help],” Price said.
There are also online and in-person third-party vendors that are being vetted by TEA to help account for the necessary tutoring workload. Price said the first choice is for KISD students to receive instruction from district staff, but that the third-party or online option can help with particularly challenging schedules.
Concerns with the legislation and its implications go beyond the logistics, too. Warren, for instance, said the law places too much importance on STAAR results.
“With this one law, the state of Texas has made the STAAR the end-all, be-all,” Warren said. “This is going to relegate us to be test-passers.”
But state education officials say it is important to keep in mind the bill’s intent: to help offset some of the significant learning loss spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not [meant to be] punitive on the kids,” Schrader said. “We want to do everything we can to get them at grade level. ... We want them to be ready for college or career. And so this is just helping them to close those gaps in their learning.”