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May 5, 2017

Public Testimony for HB 1776 to the Texas House of Representatives: Committee on Public Education -- March 21, 2017

Good morning, my name is Randy Willis, and I am the Superintendent of Schools for Granger Independent School District. I am testifying  FOR HB 1776……on behalf of the students and teachers of my school district, the 360 district members of The Texas Rural Education Association (TREA),

I strongly support this bill.  I laid in recommendation for “an assessment plan for education policy makers” in August of 2016.  This plan was reviewed with the educational analyst in the Governor’s office, the Lt Governor’s office, Senator Taylor’s (Chair for the Senate Pubic Education committee) office, Representative Hurberty’s office, and with Representative VanDeaver’s Office. I can make available the complete three ring binder of the assessment plan for any committee member should they wish.

Within the binder, Tab 4 in the plan reviews the idea that 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.

I strongly support passing HB 1776. Texas would be leading the nation with this innovative legislation.

Randy Willis

Superintendent of Schools

Granger ISD




May 5, 2017

Public Testimony on HB 22 Before the Texas House of Representatives: Committee on Public Education -- March 21, 2017

Good morning, my name is Randy Willis, and I am the Superintendent of Schools for Granger Independent School District. I am testifying ON HB 22……on behalf of the students and teachers of my school district, the 360 district members of The Texas Rural Education Association (TREA), and the 635 district members of the Texas Association of Community Schools (TACS).  In essence, I am supported by more than half of the school districts in the state of Texas on my testimony.

Let me state as simply and fervently as I can, that I do not support the A-F rating system in any shape, form, or fashion.   All you have to do is read John Tanners research in his book “The Pitfalls of Reform: It’s Incompatibility with Actual Improvement.  Or Dianne Ravitch’s book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How testing and choice are undermining education.”  Not one piece of legislation should be passed by this committee before reading these research-based books.

With that said, I am a pragmatic.  And, I know that I must work within the system of statutes you pass and the rules the state agency makes on those statues, whether they are fair or not.   While HB 22 is a very good step forward, there are several areas that must be address by statutes to make the system workable for all schools and not just a few. Those areas are:

  1. Dual Credit and AP/IB are not given the same weight which dramatically hurts rural schools.
  2. Full CTE Industry Certifications are difficult to obtain with in the school year, school day from rural schools with Higher Education and Technical college’s requirement.
  3. Reporting graduation rates within the current year of the rating and not two years behind as in our current of TAPR and A-F system.
  4. Not addressing the financial resources that are available to a school district within the rating system to achieve their academic test score rating.
  5. I do strongly support the expansion of extra-curricular activities within the rating system.
  6. And most importantly, I strongly support the additional time to develop the system before full implementation as laid out in this bill. 

I can fully support all these areas if you have should have any questions. Thank you for your consideration on these issues and our accountability system.

Randy Willis/ Superintendent of Schools/ Granger ISD

 

Rural schools must be fairly represented in any accountability system.  You cannot put a square peg in a round hole.  And that is what the Texas accountability system has tried to do with our past and current purposed accountability system. Let me give you several examples.

Dual credit courses require students to take 12 hours (4 courses) to earn accountability credit whereas in AP/IB, students only have to take one (1) course for accountability credit.  That gives an unfair advantage to larger suburban/Urban schools over small rural schools that do not have the staff size to offer both regular gen Ed courses and AP courses, but we can offer a dual credit course. It is my understanding this is a state statute and not under the rules of the commissioner to review or change. This unfairness must be addressed for all rural schools that may not offer AP/IB like my school.

Another issue that hurts rural schools in the proposed A-F accountability system is moving CTE accountability credit from enrollment in two or more CTE course to requiring full certification in CTE career approved industry for accountability credit.  Many times, higher Ed and technical colleges do not play fairly with K-12.  The contact hours required to received full level industry certification are more hours than we have available with the two-year HS program school. TEA has approved only a very few certifications for accountability credit.  Again, rural schools take a hit on their accountability because of the size, limited resources, and difficult higher Ed partners. If we are going to do this, let’s do it right.  More time is needed to think through a system that is fair for all schools in Texas.

District performance ratings should be defined from more than a performance on a single, standardized, state-mandated test. Our education system should be about educating the whole child. We should have meaningful measures around educating the whole student. There are over 50 state championships in extracurricular activities such as UIL/FFA/FCCLA/DECA/and Debate. UIL alone offers over 60 activities in elementary, middle school, and HS. Being able to take what you learn from classroom to competitive environments of academic, music, theater, and sports builds confidence and self-esteem in participating students. And if parental involvement is important to you, then let’s capture the hundreds of thousands if not millions of parents that support these activities and their kids. This too is part of a Texas education that goes beyond testing.

The percent of students that graduate on time (the most important indicator of them all) is not reported in our rating system as current year data.  How can you give a letter grade on two year old data? Graduation data in our TAPR report and our proposed A-F report is based off of data that is almost two years old.  Why can’t we have a preliminary report based off of current year data in the June PEIMS submission and then have a final report in Sept. or Oct.?

            I would like to bring to the committee’s attention that nowhere in the accountability system has funding been a part of the rating.  I am not here to debate the equity in the school finance issues.  I am here to say that if we are going to rate the effectiveness of a school district with and A-F system, somewhere in that rating the amount of financial resources must be considered.  And that is not found in any legislative bills to my knowledge.

Randy Willis

Superintendent of Schools

Texas Rural Education Association

Texas Association of Community Schools




May 5, 2017

School Finance Testimony -- September 29, 2016

Chairman Aycock, Chairman Ottto, distinguished committee members,

My name is Randy Willis, and I am the superintendent for Granger ISD.  Thank you for the opportunity to come before you and discuss school finance issues from a small rural school perspective. Granger is a small 2A rural district located about 45 miles NE of Austin.

My recommendation to you is one word. Kiss -Keep it simple.  I know that is easier said than done.   We have a big state, and with a big state come complicated decisions for diverse needs.  One size does not fit all. The 190 ASATAR districts do not want to lose their target revenue, which they have ten years to prepare for. Chapter 41 districts, which have grown from 43 to over 300 districts, that are subject to recapture, would like to keep more of their money, especially the fast growth districts. Which is another group that would like additional funding.  Then there are the 460+ small school districts, like mine, who would like to be fully funded. The small school penalty has reduced our funding by about 10-15% a year for over 30 years. My district is hit very hard with the small school penalty with a loss of an estimated 12 million dollars over these 30 years, and this is especially hard when you consider that 50% of my district’s property values are given ag exemptions. So, Granger get hits doubly hard for adequate school funding. These are just a few of the issues you face. There are many more to consider, and I do not envy your task.

Some of the ESC Region 13 superintendents have been meeting to discuss these issues for the past 5 months. We have 41s, 42s, small, large, rural, suburban, and urban districts at the table trying to find something we all could agree on and support.  And believe me, there were some interesting discussions and it was not easy. 

Bottom line, Kiss, keep it simple.  The one thing we could all agree on that would be a benefit every district, without regard to our independent issues, would be an increase in basic allotment. We fully support the Pflugerville plan as laid out by Dr. Kenneth Adix, CFO and Dr. Alex Torres, Superintendent of Pflugerville ISD.   The 2 + 2 plan to increase the basic allotment over the biennium would not solve all of our problems, but it would certainly go a long way in helping every district in the state provide a quality education.  For my school district, that would mean an increase of about $145,000 a year.  That is significant for a small rural district, and it does close the gap from some of the small school penalty loss.  We can’t all get everything we want but this plan will help.

Besides the ESC Region 13 superintendents, the legislative committee from the Texas Rural Education Association voted last week to support this plan.  TREA represents 365 rural school districts across the state.  We sincerely ask for your serious consideration for the support of the Pflugerville 2 + 2 increase in basic allotment plan. 

Thank you, and I would be please to field any question you may have.

 

Randy Willis,  Superintendent of Schools, Granger ISD




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


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