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May 5, 2017

Assessment Plan for Texas Educational Policy Makers -- August 8, 2016

Issue: The state of Texas has been using standardized tests to assess student learning since 1980. In that year, SAT scores in reading and math were 502, and 492 respectively. Fast forward to the year 2014, and after 34 years of ever-changing testing regimes, we are still where we started: we have averaged 502 in reading, and 519 in math. If stakeholders wish to move forward responsibly and advocate for children, we must look honestly at why these tests do not promote growth, and use a better assessment model.

Background: While SAT scores and the length of the school year have remained largely unchanged, curriculum standards and assessment have increased drastically. With a state assessment at the end of the year, educators must teach their entire curriculum before the summative test date which cannot effectively measure student growth. In some grades students test in March, giving teachers 135 days to complete their curriculum. This does not provide time for students to learn concepts deeply, or engage in creative learning. When scores come in, there is little time for teachers to go back and make instructional changes. In most cases, the student never sees the questions they missed. They do not learn from the experience because Pass/Fail scores do not diagnose areas of concern. In large school districts, curriculum specialists can work through the summer to adjust teaching approaches for district teachers before the next school year begins. Small and rural districts do not have staff or money to analyze their results and make adjust to their curriculum as well as their larger and better funded district do.

Solution:   If we are to help children overcome their academic difficulties and find success in their endeavors, we must adapt our assessment plan to meet their needs. What teachers and students of all ages fundamentally need are multiple assessments that will give detailed feedback, along with time to analyze the results and take appropriate action. One summative state assessment at the end of the year is not a good measure of student learning.  Area superintendents are recommending the following assessment plan, which is based in strong research promoting student learning and growth.





An Assessment Plan for Texas Educational Policy Makers

Moving from a culture of testing to a culture of learning


  1. Elementary Grades 1-7
    1. Locally developed assessments from state approved vendors provide a wealth of meaningful student data to districts. Many school districts already have these systems in place to measure student growth. Renaissance Learning is an example of one company being that is already in place in many Texas districts. Renaissance uses research based, norm referenced assessments to diagnose student skill levels in reading and math­­. Students simply log in and take a placement test that usually lasts around 30 minutes. Teachers use the results to shape targeted instruction plans and monitor student progress. This sends curriculum and instruction in the direction of skills recovery and growth rather than test performance.


  1. Secondary Grades 8-12
  1. College Readiness-Grade 10; currently, state law requires all entering college students to be assessed in college readiness in reading, mathematics, and writing.  Texas could eliminate high stakes testing (EOC’s) and still hold school districts accountable for meeting recommended standards by implementing the TSI assessment. Unlike EOC exams, this assessment uses 20 questions per subject area to decide if students are meeting college readiness thresholds. Students who are not ready for college coursework receive relatively inexpensive intervention modules that help improve areas of weakness. Taking this assessment in 10th grade allows time for growth and development before graduation and entrance into higher institutions of learning.


  1. Social Studies Grade 11
  1. Texas should explore the US Citizenship Exam as a means of replacing the US History EOC exam. This would emphasize the value of learning the importance of our founding documents, understanding how our government works, and essential events in US History. Our young graduates need to understand how to be active citizens and participate in our great democratic government. US History would still be a graduation course requirement.


  1. Optional assessments
    1. International Benchmarking 15 year students: The OECD Test for Schools is a student assessment tool geared for use by schools to support research, benchmarking, and school improvement efforts. Europe administers this test every three years to shape their education policies. In the United States, districts can choose to follow the three year pattern, or opt for a yearly test. Once again, this assessment provides a detailed, informative report, which is more helpful to school districts than a pass/fail status report. It is given to a random sample of 15 year olds and tests reading, mathematics, and science. Students also respond to survey questions about the culture and disciplinary environment of their campus

Texas 8th graders would be better served by taking the PSAT than the STAAR exams. The PSAT provides educators with a detailed summary report for each student, showing their strengths and weaknesses.  Unlike the STAAR test, the PSAT gives students detailed feedback, showing areas of concern, with a plan of action that shows them the specific steps needed for improvement. Each student has a unique login, where they can access videos from Khan Academy, and use their results to create a core course work plan for high school.Moving from a culture of testing to a culture of learning

April 16, 2015

Superintendent Willis Invited to Serve on National Education Advisory Council

As an innovative educational leader, Superintendent Willis was asked to be on a national education advisory council to partner with some of the top superintendents across the United States and with America Achieves to develop and refine the organization’s Global Learning Networks programs to help members translate their OECD Test for Schools results into improved outcomes for both U.S. and international students. To accomplish this overarching goal, Council members will focus on three main responsibilities: identifying school and district needs, providing guidance on appropriate resources to fulfill needs and implement best practices, and serve as spokespeople for this work.


Dear Superintendent Willis:

Thank you for your participation in the OECD Test for Schools!

Following a successful pilot year, this September, America Achieves will officially launch our Global Learning Network, a professional learning community for select OECD Test for Schools participants who've demonstrated a commitment to leveraging their results to make practice shifts that yield improved outcomes for students. We are seeking to build an Educator Advisory Council, a small group of key thought leaders to help inform and lead the work of the Global Learning Network over the next several years. Jack Dale, former Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools will chair this Council. We would like to invite you to join the Educator Advisory Council and ask that you consider participating for one year - July 2014 to July 2015. The Council's first meeting will take place in late July via webinar.

Attached is an overview of expected activities and benefits for the members of the Educator Advisory Council as we begin the important work of analyzing results from this year’s OECD Test for Schools and charting a path for the collective learning and growth of the members of the Global Leaning Network over the next several years.

We hope that you will agree to serve on this Council as your expertise and guidance in shaping the Global Learning Network will be simply invaluable. 


Thank you for your consideration of this request,


Carolyn Trager Kliman

Director of the Global Learning Network

America Achieves

April 16, 2015

Granger ISD Superintendent Randy Willis Delivers Keynote Address



Ankang Gaoxin International Middle School hosted an International Exchange and Cooperation for Basic Education between China and the United States during the first week of July. The keynote address from the United States was given by Granger Independent School District Superintendent Randy Willis. Also speaking to more than 200 education leaders from Ankang was the Deputy Mayor of Ankang, Tommy Zhao and Head Master of the Gaoxin International Middle School Yu Jiang. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss the education systems of the U.S. and China, where we are and where are going with our education programs.  


Superintendent Willis observations:


            I had the opportunity to listen to the Deputy Mayor of the City, Vice Chancellor of the University, and a School Head Master at the International Exchange and Cooperation for Basic Education between China and the United States in Ankang, China. All three leaders of their perspective organizations echo the same theme; they acknowledge the accomplishments of the Chinese students high test scores over the American students, however and interesting to point out, they all stated and believed that Chinese students could not think as creatively as the American students. They all talked about the gaps in education between the school systems and their need to deliver creative thinking students and not just test taking students. Without knowing what the speakers would be talking about, I delivered my presentation on moving from a culture of testing to a culture of learning through project base learning.


            I also had the opportunity to take questions from two different parent sessions on American education. There were over 100 Chinese parents, students and teachers in each session. The top 4 questions from each session were; 1) How do Americans get their students off of cell phones? 2) How do Americans get their students off video games? 3) How do Americans help reduce student stress? and finally 4) How do Americans get their students to study more? I laughed to myself when I heard these questions. These would have been the same questions from any teacher-parent meeting I have attended in Texas. It made me realize that kids are kids no matter where they are from. I found we have more similarities than differences in the education of our students.


For any additional information about this article please feel free to contact Mr. Willis at rwillis@granger.txed.net.




Ankang, China Facts


Ankang metro area population- 3,000,000


Ankang University- 10,000 students

April 16, 2015

Understanding Texas State Assessments: Are We Asking the Right Questions?

Over past 15 years I’ve been hearing educators and more recently our legislators use the expression “teaching to the test”. This expression has been used since the early 1990s during era of TAAS state exams. “Teaching to the test” continued to draw attention in the next set of state exams (TAKS) in early 2000’s. Now in 2012 and 2013, the next level of the state exams (STAAR) “teaching to the test” is receiving even more scrutiny. I find that many educational professionals and elected officials truly do not understand Texas standard based curriculum and testing. I’ve had the opportunity to observe the Senate Committee on Public Education meetings as well as the House Committee on Public Education meetings and listened to many hours of testimony during the last legislative session. I am stunned at the lack of depth and understanding among educators and legislators of the curriculum instructional standards in the state of Texas.

Let me try to explain this complex issue as simply as I can. Good teachers do not teach to the test. Good teachers teach the state curriculum standards which is the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The state gives an exam (State of Texas Academic Assessments and Readiness, STAAR) which measures how well a student has mastered the state standards. The new STAAR exam and the previous state exam (TAKS) are 100% aligned to the state standards of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Every STAAR/TAKS exam question comes directly from the TEKS student expectations.

When the teacher has effectively taught the students expectation from the TEKS, then the student will do well on the exam. It is not rocket science. When students do not perform well on the state test then examination and analysis of what the taught curriculum was versus the tested curriculum must be analyzed (exhibit 1). Without an aligned curriculum the student will never have a chance to be successful on the state exam.

A principle issue that is not being addressed or understood about assessments is the amount of standards that are being asked to be taught with a limited amount time available in the academic school year. Students will be given twenty-two (reduced from 32) high stakes exams from third grade through eleventh grade in nine years. In high school the average number of standards for each exam is around 59 (exhibit 2). However, and very important to understand, is that HS teachers have an average 2.3 classes to teach these standards to the depth and complexity the standards requires from the day school starts to the test day. Districts that align their curriculum to the state standards optimize the potential for student success; however, they still face challenges due to the limited amount of time available to teach a standard and have students master that standard within a couple of classes.

Our state standards for reading, writing, and math are among the best if not the very best in the country. If we stay the course with what we have in place we will see gains in student performance on national assessments. I submit to you the real issue is the inadequate time a teacher has within the school day and current school year to instruct. We need to lengthen the school day or the school year or both (which is the model for most industrial nations across the world and we wonder why we are falling behind). This would cost billions of additional dollars and our state legislature is not likely to make that kind of investment for a world class educational system. The other option is to reduce the number of assessed standards within the current school year. That may compromise the rigor of the intended readiness criterion we are trying to achieve. There is no easy answer but we must do something to help our teachers instruct to the depth and complexity of the standards we are asking students to learn and master. Give the teacher more time or reduce the amount of assessed measures.

We have great teachers in the state of Texas. They do an extraordinary job with limited resources in an agrarian based school calendar and a six and half hour school day. They teach every child that comes through their door, including those who struggle with learning disabilities, economic disadvantage, and English language learners. Every day teachers strive for excellence so that each student reaches his or hers fullest potential. I ask you to take the time to thank a teacher for the job they are doing for all the kids in our state. And take the opportunity to tell your elected officials in Austin that it is time to make education a priority, restore the funding cuts from the 82nd legislative session, and intelligently address the testing issues that make sense for all students.

Remember, the real issue is not the number of test that students are required to take but the number of standards the students are require to master for any given test and the time a teacher has to teach the standards. We are setting teachers and students up for failure if we do not address this critical issue in the Texas public school education system.


Randy Willis

Superintendent of Schools

Granger ISD

April 16, 2015

WHY CSCOPE? Background Document

During the past two and half decades the educational reform efforts to improve America’s public schools has produced a diversity of programmatic change in an attempt to transform the nation’s school systems. From A Nation at Risk in 1983 to the current day No Child Left Behind Act, America’s public schools have embarked on a journey to improve student academic performance regardless of race or economic background. The NCLB Act has fueled the noble goals of excellence and equity for all students in public schools which have been the driving initiative for the nation’s state educational policy makers. “No Child Left Behind was the latest federal effort to reach the goal of equal educational opportunity” (Murnane, 2007, p. 178). The law, which called for increased accountability of public schools and proven education methods, has altered the standards of public education for every state in America (Center for Education Policy, 2007; USDE, 2004).

Standardized tests became the vehicle for NCLB to evaluate the effectiveness of the nation’s schooldistricts to determine whether or not a school district was performing at a satisfactory level (White, 2010). The heightened consequence of standardized testing forced public school administrators to begin to look at every aspect of curriculum and instruction in order to improve their districts’ scores. Many school districts had not been effectively aligning their curriculum with the state academic standards. Educational leaders were discovering various issues between the taught curriculum from their teachers to their students and the tested curriculum that was given from the state exams (Schmoker, 2006). Large gaps of instruction were found in the curriculum between what was supposed to be covered and what was actually being taught in the classroom. A significant trend was beginning to emerge with curriculum alignment across the entire country. As an outcome of this curriculum alignment predicament, educational leaders from campuses and districts across America have been forced to study their state’s curriculum standards and ensure that what is being taught in classrooms is aligned with their state’s mandated curriculum. NCLB’s accountability requirement with its emphasizes on standardized test results compelled educators to give tighter consideration to the alignment of their curriculum (Davis & Perna, 2007; District Administration, 2004; Gewertz, 2010; Jennings & Renter, 2006).

Instructional leadership is essential for improving student academic performance (Alig-Mielcarek and Hoy, 2005). Over the past three decades, the development of the curriculum has been driven by federal reform efforts to improve student achievement (Murry and Datnow, 2002). Curriculum decisions are choices that today’s educational leaders must make to meet the ever increasing federal and state accountability standards (Darling-Hammond, 2004). Existing research shows that when the written, taught, and tested curriculum is tightly aligned student performance increases (English and Steffy 2003; 2001). In Texas, the CSCSOPE curriculum management system has been adopted by more than 875 school districts to meet the challenge of providing an aligned curriculum for their students (Labay, 2013).

Larger school districts have the resources to utilize curriculum teams who can build and support curriculum guides that are aligned with the continuously changing curriculum standards mandated by the state educational agency. Smaller rural and property poor school district have limited resources in both human and financial capital to address curriculum alignment issues. In response to assist districts need for an aligned curriculum several Educational Service Centers joined and developed a curriculum managements system, CSCOPE. Designed around the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, with various learning theories, and best practices in both curriculum and instruction, CSCOPE has been adopted and implemented in the small and rural which make up the majority of school districts in Texas. Over the past seven years, almost all of the 20 Educational Service Center have joined to support the curriculum product. 

Popular among the adopting districts are the Vertical Alignment Documents (VAD) and the Year at a Glance (YAG). VADs provide standards for a grade level or course of instruction during the year. It graphically represents aligned TEKS across and among courses and grade levels (CSCOPE, 2012). Year at a Glance provides a snapshot of the year’s entire instructional plan of what should be taught when. 

School districts across Texas are diligently working hard to prepare our students for the rigorous state academic assessments. However, even with the various depth of implementation of these curriculum tools they are some teachers and organizations that unequivocally rebuffed the idea that an external product will determine what and when they teach the material to their students in the classrooms. In my professional opinion, there is a lack of understanding of the Texas assessment system. This speaks to the real issue in that it is my belief that we are not asking the right questions. I would suggest looking at what are the standards that have been approved by the state board of education (the TEKS), the amount of standards that are required to be learned and assessed by the state, (the STAAR), and the amount of time available to teach the standards. The task that teachers face in preparing our students in the current educational environment is daunting. 

CSCOPE is a valuable curriculum tool that is used by many districts. CSCOPE address issues with standard base curriculum alignment and assessments that can be used as an effective tool for delivery of instruction to students in the classroom. Just as book is a tool, CSCOPE is also a tool. Although CSCOPE is much more sophisticated than a book, it contains a scope and sequence, vertical and horizontal alignment, proven lesson designs, and individual lessons for each grade level and subject. CSCOPE is not a silver bullet to improve student performance, just as a textbook is not a silver bullet. It takes a qualified teacher to review both tools to pull out material necessary to cover the depth and complexity that a lesson requires to master the state standards in a particular subject or grade level.

At the request of teachers and administrators the CSCOPE staff has consistently and continually responded to improving the materials, services, and training of this curriculum management product. Districts that use this product have consistently improved student performance. As in many crafts and trades in American, a tool is only as good as a person using it. And in this profession, Good teachers with good curriculum make a difference.

Randy Willis

Superintendent of Schools

Granger ISD

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