Middle School Students Taking Algebra I

March 6, 2014

Word Version

March 6, 2014

To the Administrator Addressed:

Middle School Students Taking Algebra I

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been in communication with the United States Department of Education (USDE) regarding the State’s January 27, 2014 application to amend the approved ESEA flexibility request regarding Algebra I end-of-course assessments for middle school students.  Although TEA has not received written notification denying the request, the USDE has communicated that a letter of denial is forthcoming given the USDE:  (1) has never approved similar waivers from other states and (2) no other mathematics assessment, except Algebra I, exists at the high school level that will meet USDE requirements to assess the State’s required mathematics curriculum standards.  TEA is communicating this decision by USDE to school districts in advance of receiving a written denial because the STAAR grade 8 mathematics assessment will be administered by school districts on April 1, 2014.

The waiver request was submitted because I do not believe that double testing middle school students is instructionally appropriate nor a valid evaluation of mathematics for Texas middle schools and high schools.  Despite the USDE decision on the amendment request, I cannot support testing students on content that does not reflect the instruction the students received that school year and cannot justify arbitrarily assigning a set of prior year test scores to a campus to meet federal accountability requirements given the test scores are not tied to current year instruction on that campus.  Therefore, I intend to exercise my authority over state and federal accountability to remove the incentive for a school district to double test a student solely for accountability purposes. 

For 2014 and 2015 state and federal accountability, if a student takes the STAAR Algebra I end-of-course 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.

This policy will be adopted by Commissioner of Education rule in the 2014 and 2015 state accountability manuals and will be included in the 2014 and 2015 federal accountability addendums that the TEA is required to submit to USDE.  Further, TEA does not intend to count students who took Algebra I in middle school as non-participants at their high school through the participation safeguard for state or federal accountability purposes.  To do so would be inconsistent with a policy of discouraging the double testing of middle school students in mathematics.

Texas Education Code(TEC) §39.053 provides the commissioner of education with the authority to adopt the performance indicators used for state accountability, including the results of state required assessments, and determine how the STAAR performance results will be calculated and used.  The Commissioner of Education is also responsible for determining how the State of Texas will meet federal accountability requirements.

Current federal accountability requirements specify that students have a mathematics score every year in grades 3–8 as well as a mathematics score in high school. The USDE requires states that offer only one mathematics assessment at the high school level — which can also be taken by middle school students — to ensure there is a mathematics result that can be attributed to a high school.  House Bill 5 passed by the Eighty-third Texas Legislature, Regular Session, 2013, eliminated high school assessments in geometry and Algebra II, thereby permitting a portion of Texas students to complete their mathematics testing requirements for high school graduation prior to entering high school.  An additional provision of House Bill 5 permits school districts to double test students on STAAR Algebra I and a STAAR grade level mathematics assessment for federal accountability purposes.
Given state and federal testing requirements, USDE denial of the amendment request, and the Texas Legislature’s decision to reduce end-of-course testing to one high school mathematics assessment, I am eliminating incentives for double testing students for accountability purposes.

My primary concern about instituting these accountability policies in 2014 and 2015 is that some school districts may make poor instructional decisions regarding accelerated students.  For example, to avoid the dilemma of having these students’ scores attributed to a middle school campus instead of the high school campus, some districts might reconsider offering Algebra I at the middle school level.  This would seriously disadvantage students who move quickly through the mathematics curriculum in grades K-8 and would benefit from taking advanced coursework in middle school.  This stalls students’ academic progress and provides them with one less opportunity to take an advanced mathematics course or another relevant upper-division course in high school.

Given this concern, Texas Education Agency will be analyzing course completion data submitted by school districts to ensure that enrollment in Algebra I by middle school students does not precipitously decline beginning with the 2014-2015 school year.  Based on this annual analysis, some school districts may be contacted to explain reductions in Algebra I enrollments by middle school students.


Michael Williams
Commissioner of Education