Passed in 2011 by the 82nd Texas Legislature, SB 1557 created the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium and charged it with improving student learning in Texas by developing innovative high-priority learning standards and assessment and accountability systems. The statute required the commissioner of education to create an application process for school districts and open-enrollment charter schools interested in serving in the Consortium. Districts were required to provide detailed plans in several specific areas and could designate all or some of their campuses to participate. The law provided that the commissioner select a range of districts in terms of types (urban, suburban, rural), sizes, and student populations, to represent the diversity of Texas public schools. The original size of the Consortium was defined by a limit on the number of students who could be enrolled in selected districts: 5 percent of the total Texas public school student population, or approximately 250,000 students. The law required the commissioner to submit reports of the Consortium’s progress to the Legislature prior to the 83rd and 84th sessions (by December 1, 2012, and December 1, 2014).
Passed unanimously by the Texas House and Senate but vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry, HB 2824 would have provided Consortium districts with flexibility, via a pilot program, from certain constraints of Texas’ public school accountability system that would have allowed them to advance their research, exploration, development, and implementation of new assessment and accountability systems not overly reliant on high-stakes testing. The bill called for a research study by a third-party evaluator on the effect of teaching high-priority learning standards in depth, the effectiveness of closing achievement gaps on readiness standards, the impact of digital learning, the use of multiple assessments, and the reliance on local control. The bill would have allowed participating campuses to evaluate students on “readiness standards” (rather than also on “supporting standards”) to allow for in-depth teaching. And finally, the bill would have cut back on the number of STAAR assessments given to students in participating districts.
Passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature, HB 5 made substantial changes to the state’s curriculum and graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability system, including reducing the number of standardized end-of-course exams required for graduation from 15 to five and creating more flexible graduation plans. The law was a victory for the Consortium, which, in its December 2012 report to the Legislature, had noted the need for meaningful flexibility in graduation plans by allowing multiple pathways to allow for specializations in areas such as career and technical education, humanities, business and industry, and STEM, as well as optional courses in visual and performing arts, languages other than English, and technology applications.
Passed by the 84th Texas Legislature, HB 18 increased the number of districts in the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium to 30, with the Consortium representing not more than 10 percent (up from 5 percent) of the state’s total student enrollment. The legislation also amended the statutory purpose of the Consortium to add the State Board of Education as an entity to which the Consortium must provide its progress report prior to each legislative session.
Passed by the 84th Texas Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott, provisions of SB 313 providing for a review of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) with the intent of narrowing the content and scope of standards and skills were in line with the Consortium’s December 2014 recommendation that the Legislature support the State Board of Education in its ongoing revision of the TEKS based on the identification of high-priority learning standards. The Consortium supports depth over breadth in learning standards; the high number of standards in the TEKS forces teachers to move quickly to cover them all, preventing students from experiencing profound learning. Critics of the bill claimed it would allow the Common Core State Standards to be introduced to the TEKS.
Passed by the 84th Texas Legislature, HB 1164 creates a pilot program in which participating districts have flexibility from current law relating to writing assessment. The bill was in line with the Consortium’s 2014 recommendation that the state “move away from the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized tests” and its statement that “the state’s current writing assessments examine students’ first-draft samples in an artificial, formulaic context graded by a contracted, minimally trained hourly worker. Deeper and more meaningful measures of a child’s writing skills are reflected by a portfolio that includes varied examples of writing, progressions from drafts to final products, responses to feedback from teachers and peers, and other measures of authentic learning. By going beyond the first draft, teachers can thoroughly measure a student’s mastery of meaningful learning standards.”
Passed by the 84th Texas Legislature, HB 2804 made major revisions to the state’s public school accountability system, including shifting some of the weight given to standardized tests in the system to other indicators of student achievement. This shift is in line with the Consortium’s 2014 recommendation that the Legislature “develop an assessment and accountability framework that is not over-reliant on high-stakes testing, that is well balanced and instructionally sensitive, with a defensible state testing program that emphasizes high-priority learning standards, has value for students, parents, and teachers, measures what each community holds important in promoting college and career readiness, and supports improved instruction and a process for local input. HB 2804 also created the Texas Commission on Next-Generation Assessments and Accountability to “develop and make recommendations for new systems of student assessment and public school accountability.” The bill required that an educator in a Consortium-participating school district be included and that the Commission consider the Consortium’s recommendations when it prepared its report. It also added a new purpose to the Consortium’s work: “standards and systems relating to career and college readiness.”