Texas education commissioner discusses changes to STAAR test, ways to prep new teachers

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath testified before the Texas House Committee on Public Education for 3 hours to address a series of issues, including teacher shortages, the STAAR test and the impact that school vouchers could have on schools in the state.

Morath said every year the state is having to hire approximately 35,000 new public school teachers.

The commissioner said data shows many first-year teachers aren't well-equipped to help students excel in the classroom.

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"If you really want to see student achievement go up you need to do something about the level of preparation that happens for teachers in their first year," said Morath.

The findings were part of a recent report generated by Gov. Abbott's Teacher Vacancy Task Force.

READ MORE: Texas teachers need raises, training and better working conditions to fix shortages, state task force finds

The 46-member group, comprised of teachers and school leaders, made recommendations to help with teacher retention and success in the classroom.

Their report includes expanding the allotment for the mentor program and implementing a full-year teacher residency program.

Morath also briefed the committee on possible changes to the STAAR test amid complaints from parents and some teachers that lesson plans are too focused on teaching to the test.

"So as opposed to testing once at the end of the year, maybe three smaller tests you would do throughout the year," he said.

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About 40,000 students enrolled in public school districts statewide are taking part in the pilot program. Thus far, Morath said the feedback from students has been positive.

"That might be something fruitful to consider as a long-term change," he said.

The committee also discussed the hot-button topic of school vouchers, one of the options being considered under the umbrella of school choice, a priority among the state's top Republicans.

"Is there a number of  vouchers there's going to be?" asked State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston).

"I head several," Morath responded.

School vouchers are state-sponsored scholarships for private schools that historically have failed to gain majority support in the legislature.

Many rural Republicans oppose vouchers due to a lack of private schools in their area and therefore need to preserve public education in their communities.

This session State Senator Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) filed SB 176 which could become the most expansive piece of school choice legislation in the state if it were to pass.

It would create an education savings account program for parents to use on a variety of different school options.

Democrats oppose the measure too, as it would take state dollars away from public schools.

Morath says there's no telling how big the demand could be.

"I don't know I haven't been listening to the streets on this particular topic," he said. "I think it's ultimately what this body would decide."

When it comes to school vouchers Vice Chair Allen asked if parents could be reimbursed for transportation to private schools too.

Morath said it is all up to what state lawmakers decide.