Strong Public Schools

December 5, 2019

View NEA interviews with presidential candidates; they are part of NEA’s candidate recommendation process

The National Education Association has moved into the next phase of its presidential primary recommendation process with the release of the first 2020 presidential candidate interviews with President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. Lily asked the candidates questions from NEA members about the challenges facing students, educators and public schools across the country.

The first wave of videos, which can be found at, includes interviews with Sen. Michael Bennet, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. More candidate interviews will be released as they are filmed.

NEA has invited every candidate from both parties to participate in its recommendation process, which requires each candidate seeking NEA’s recommendation to:

  • Fill out and return NEA’s 2020 candidate questionnaire
  • Sit down with the NEA president for a recorded interview that all NEA members will be able to view.

Once that process is complete, the NEA PAC Council — which includes representatives from every state, NEA caucus and NEA Executive Committee — has the authority to put forward a presidential primary recommendation for consideration by the NEA Board of Directors.

Texas Education Agency offering an early childhood workshop opportunity

The Early Childhood Community Convenings are designed to support communities in establishing partnerships and strengthening coordination to improve access and quality for early childhood programs. If your community wants to form a team and participate, do so now because the deadline for applying is 5 p.m., Central Time, Dec. 12.

The Large Community Convening will be Jan. 27-29 in Austin, and the Small-Medium Community Convening will be Feb. 5-7 in San Antonio. One small-medium and one large community team spot will be available from each of the 20 Education Service Center Regions. Any communities that were not invited to Momentum 2020 are eligible to attend.

Teams must include representatives of school districts or open enrollment charters.

You can find more information and an application form here.

Deadlines approaching for TEA innovative course approval

The Texas Administrative Code allows school districts to offer innovative courses to enable students to master knowledge, skills and competencies not included in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Innovative courses must be approved either by the State Board of Education or the education commissioner and, if approved, may satisfy state elective credit toward graduation. The approval of the local board of trustees is required in order for school districts to offer state-approved innovative courses.

Applications for the renewal of existing courses must be received by Dec. 13.

Applications for new innovative courses must be received by Jan. 17 and will be considered by the state board at the January 2020 or April 2020 meeting.

For more information about innovative courses, please visit the Innovative Courses webpage. You can also contact Kelsey King, Curriculum Standards and Student Support Division, 512-463-9581 or at

Taking a closer look at the latest STAAR readability study

The University of Texas Austin Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk released part one of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) readability study. The independent study was mandated by House Bill 3, the new school finance law, after several reports, including one conducted by Texas A&M researchers, argued that STAAR test items were above the reading level of the students being tested. Although some media headlines have been quick to suggest that STAAR is in fact written at appropriate grade levels, a closer look into the actual study is cause for pause.

Reviewers examined a total of 634 test items across 17 of the 2019 STAAR tests, including reading, mathematics, science, social studies and writing in grades 3 through 8.

The study tested three primary questions regarding the appropriateness of the tests:

Alignment: Are the items on the test aligned to the TEKS?

Item Readability: Are the test items (questions and answers) written on or below the grade-appropriate reading level of the students being tested?

Passage Readability: Are the passages written on or below the grade-appropriate reading level of the students being tested?

Here is what the researchers found:

Alignment: Researchers classified an item as aligned if it addressed a student expectation from the tested grade or any grade below. An overwhelming majority of the items were rated as aligned, with just eight questions found to not adequately assess the standards it were meant to assess.

Item Readability: Because there is “little guidance and even less research on evaluating the readability of test items,” the researchers used several methodologies to determine whether or not they could produce reliable results. For each method, the researchers obtained different results and therefore concluded that “analyzing item readability in a reliable manner for this report is not possible.”

Passage Readability: In order to determine text readability, the authors combined elements of various readability formulas and developed their own “test.” They evaluated passages using three indices: sentence length and difficulty, syntax (the way in which words are arranged) and “narrativity” (vocabulary load) and deemed a passage readable if two of the three indices fell within or below the grade level. Although 86 percent of the reading and writing passages met the criterion of two out of three and therefore were found to be grade-appropriate, only 31 percent fell within or below the specified grade band for narrativity.

School finance, pay raises, charters and pensions among

House committee interim studies

Speaker Dennis Bonnen has instructed the House Public Education Committee to study the implementation of House Bill 3, the new school finance law, including an examination of pay raises districts have given teachers and staff and the “various approaches adopted to differentiate these salary increases according to experience.”

He also asked the committee to monitor charter conversions under SB1882, the Texas Education Agency’s implementation of the A-F school rating system and the implementation of new laws related to school safety and behavioral health.

The House Appropriations subcommittee on Article III will monitor the ongoing costs associated with House Bill 3. And the full Appropriations Committee will join the Committee on Pensions, Investments and Financial Services in reviewing and evaluating the actuarial soundness of teacher and state employee pension funds.

The speaker also asked the pensions panel to monitor the Teacher Retirement System’s actions in “implementing high deductible regional plans for certain school districts interested in providing alternatives to the current TRS Active Care options.”

To see all of the speaker’s committee charges, click here.

Science TEKS review work group applications being accepted

The State Board of Education will soon begin the review and revision of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science. The SBOE’s TEKS review and revision process calls for multiple, separate work groups to make recommendations to the SBOE for revisions to the current standards. SBOE members nominate individuals, including educators, parents, business and industry representatives and employers to serve on TEKS review work groups.

Applications are now being accepted for science TEKS work groups. Individuals selected will be asked to serve on one or more work groups, which will meet in Austin for a minimum of one face-to-face meeting. The application can be accessed here. Questions regarding the application or review process may be sent via email to

Applications and nominations also open for 2020 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

The 2019-20 applications and nominations for the 2020 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are now open. Kindergarten through grade 6 math and science teachers are eligible.

PAEMST awards are the nation’s highest honors for teachers of math and science. Awardees receive a certificate signed by the president of the United States, a trip to Washington D.C. to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

In Texas, eligible teachers who submit a completed application will receive 25 continuing professional education (CPE) hours. The application deadline is May 1. You can sign up to apply or nominate an educator here. Questions may be directed to or 512-463-9581.

A call to all our Makers!

Do you have a Makerspace in your school or classroom? Our teaching and learning specialist is looking to highlight member examples of the many ways in which educators can use these spaces — entire rooms or corners of the room — to provide hands-on creative ways for students to design, experiment and invent as they tinker. If you have a Makerspace and would like to share your experiences, please contact Carrie Griffith at

Some information you might include:

  • Your grade level(s)
  • The makerspace funding source
  • Which/how many teachers/students have access to it?
  • Is it used primarily as an extension activity for some or a central part of the curricula for all?
  • What subject area(s) does your makerspace support?

Encourage your students and children to enter TSTA’s

2020 Young Artist Contest

This year’s theme is “Celebrating Diversity in My Public School,” and the contest is open to all students in kindergarten through 12th grade attending Texas public schools. Entries may be mailed to TSTA headquarters in Austin and postmarked no later than Feb. 5, 2020. Winners will be selected by the delegates to the TSTA House of Delegates meeting next spring in El Paso.

First- through fifth-place winners will receive gift cards ranging in value from $200 to $50, a certificate from TSTA and their artwork will be displayed at TSTA headquarters in Austin for a year and published in TSTA publications/website.

Here are the contest rules and entry forms. Each entry must have two entry forms.


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