November 10, 2014
To The Administrator Addressed:
Subject: Middle School Students Taking Algebra I
This letter is to provide school districts an update concerning the recent response by the United States Department of Education (USDE) to the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA’s) January 27, 2014, application to amend Texas’ approved Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility waiver regarding Algebra I end-course (EOC) assessments for middle school students. In this amendment request, TEA proposed that middle school students enrolled in Algebra I in middle school only take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) Algebra I assessment rather than double testing these middle school students on both the STAAR Algebra I assessment and the grade level mathematics assessment.
In correspondence dated August 12, 2014, USDE declined to grant TEA a waiver of the provisions of ESEA that require all students to be assessed in mathematics at least once in high school. The correspondence further states that “If the TEA cannot under State law require these students take a higher-level mathematics assessment in high school, the TEA must require that they take the STAAR test for middle school in addition to the STAAR Algebra I EOC and bank the results of the EOC for high school accountability.”
The USDE’s denial of this amendment request does not alter TEA policies regarding state and federal accountability that were communicated to school administrators in a March 6, 2014 letter
Double testing middle school students enrolled in Algebra I on the Algebra I EOC assessment and a grade level mathematics assessment is not a common-sense option to address the federal requirement for a higher-level mathematics assessment in high school for these students. Double testing middle school students is instructionally inappropriate and an invalid evaluation of mathematics for Texas middle schools and high schools. Therefore, TEA will continue to eliminate incentives for double testing students for accountability purposes.
For 2015 state and federal accountability, if a student takes the STAAR Algebra I assessment and a STAAR mathematics grade level assessment, only the results of the Algebra I assessment will be included in the accountability calculations for the campus and the district where the student tested.
TEA does not have the statutory authority to address the lack of a second high school mathematics assessment for those students who take Algebra I in middle school. Only one high-school level mathematics assessment, the STAAR Algebra I assessment, has been authorized and funded by the Texas Legislature. House Bill 5 passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature, Regular Session, 2013, eliminated required high school assessments in geometry and Algebra II, thereby allowing a portion of Texas students to complete their mathematics testing requirements for high school graduation prior to entering high school.
TEA is moving forward to address the USDE denial of the double-testing waiver through the following actions. I have sent a letter to legislative leadership informing them of the requirement by USDE to ensure middle-school students who take Algebra I be provided the opportunity to take a higher-level mathematics assessment in high school. The 84th Texas Legislature meets in Regular Session beginning January 13, 2015, and therefore has the ability to enact legislation authorizing an additional higher-level mathematics assessment in high school to address USDE requirements.
In addition, TEA is exploring other options to address this requirement if there are no changes to current statute following the legislative session. One of the options under consideration is to track from each graduating cohort the students who take Algebra I in middle school across their high school career prior to graduation, beginning with ninth grade students in the 2014-2015 school year. If these students take the optional STAAR Algebra II EOC assessment that is currently scheduled to be available beginning in the 2015-16 school year, or if these students take one of the approved substitute assessments for the STAAR Algebra I assessment (PSAT Mathematics, SAT Mathematics, or ACT Mathematics) available in 2014-2015, TEA would use those results to meet federal participation and performance requirements for a mathematics assessment at the high school level. School districts would be held accountable for the performance of middle school students who took the Algebra I assessment prior to high school on either the STAAR Algebra II assessment or one of the approved substitute assessments for the STAAR Algebra I assessment prior to these students graduating from high school. However, it is unknown at this time whether the USDE would accept this option.
Michael L. Williams
Commissioner of Education