Well Intentioned, but Flawed

The following testimony was delivered to the Public Education Committee of the Texas House of Representatives on August 30, 2021

The accelerated learning committees established in House Bill 4545 (87-R) created a strategy to accelerate student exposure to grade-appropriate work, not delay it. In 2017, 22 percent of third-graders did not meet grade level in reading. By 2019, less than five percent of those students accelerated to meeting grade level in 5th-grade reading.[1] Traditional remediation delays access to grade-level work until the student catches up, which only widens learning gaps between students who are being remediated and their grade-level peers.

With significant declines across almost all subject areas and grades, the tactics used to address learning gaps that existed pre-COVID will not be sufficient going forward. Acceleration focuses on preparing students for success with upcoming new learning and lays the foundation for continued academic growth. HB 233 (87-2) partially improves on the work of HB 4545 by expanding the accelerated learning requirements to include students in all grades 3-8 who fail to perform satisfactorily on reading or math assessments.

However, Texas 2036 is opposing this bill for two reasons:

  1. The bill abandons evidence-based practices by allowing high student-to-tutor ratios in accelerated learning environments.
  2. The bill lowers the rigor of accelerated learning by allowing school districts to opt-out if they progress 60% of their students in accelerated learning.

To Address Learning Loss, the State Should Not Undermine Small Group Tutoring

The limit on supplemental instructional group sizes in HB 4545 was added thoughtfully based on research showing the number of students in the group plays a significant role in the effectiveness of tutoring.[2] [3] [4]Data from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows tutors can effectively instruct up to three or four students at a time.[5] Moving beyond that number diminishes the personalization and requires a higher degree of skill.[6]The Texas Education Agency (TEA) included “1:1 or small group instruction” as one of the key principles in the High-Impact Tutoring Toolkit.[7] If tutoring is worth doing—and it is—it must be done well, based on existing evidence and research.

While tutoring small groups is more resource-intensive, this is exactly the type of evidence-based strategy on which school districts should be spending their billions of dollars in federal COVID-relief funds. These additional dollars are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address inequities and inadequacies in our education system. Our state faces a dire economic outlook if we fail to ensure our students not only recover the learning lost during the pandemic but overcome the educational gaps that existed before the pandemic.

Texas Should Not Incentivize the Elimination of Effective Acceleration Programs

The bill also allows TEA to grant a waiver to districts in which 60% of students required to receive accelerated instruction performed satisfactorily in the subsequent school year. If “performed satisfactorily” includes students who are “approaching” grade level and not meeting grade level, we are doing a great disservice to students who continue to need accelerated instruction.

Per the TEA, “approaches grade level” means performance in this category indicates that students are expected to succeed in the next grade or course with “targeted academic intervention.” Yet HB 233 gets rid of targeted academic intervention for students who remain below grade level. This is not a standard Texas should accept, and it certainly should not exempt a student from continued accelerated learning. Additionally, progressing 60% of students does not negate the need for additional support for the other 40% nor does it preclude there will not be additional students need interventions in the following year. In essence, this waiver target moves the aspirational goalposts from “no child left behind” to “leave no more than 40% of children behind.”

Counterintuitively, the most favorable read on this section appears to be that it would free districts with strong accelerated learning programs from the requirement to offer accelerated learning. In essence, if you succeed in having an effective program that data shows is helping kids catch up, this bill gives you permission to abolish your effective program. It’s hard to understand why state policy would incentivize the cancelation of effective programs if our goal is to help every child reach his or her full potential.

We recommend the committee remove this section. If the Legislature believes that 60% acceleration is a success, then the state shouldn’t immediately allow that school district to abandon a successful program. We also urge the committee to more clearly differentiate between acceptable performance standards, setting clear goals for students to meet grade-level rather than simply approach.

[1] Texas Education Agency

[2] https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/tutoring-effective-strategy-our-troubled-times

[3] https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED610286.pdf

[4] https://www.edweek.org/leadership/high-dosage-tutoring-is-effective-but-expensive-ideas-for-making-it-work/2020/08

[5] https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w27476/w27476.pdf

[6] https://annenberg.brown.edu/sites/default/files/EdResearch_for_Recovery_Design_Principles_1.pdf

[7] https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/high_impact_tutoring_toolkit.pdf