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Chapter 3
Public School Accountability System:
Texas Assessment Of Academic Skills (TAAS)
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Texas pioneered educational accountability when, in 1984, the Legislature enacted the Texas Educational Opportunity Act (TEOA), designed to impose an "accountability" system on Texas public school administrators, teachers and students. In 1985, the State Board of Education (SBOE) adopted the "Essential Elements" of the curriculum that must be taught by every school and at every grade and course level, and moved forward with plans to implement an objective standardized test.

Texas' statewide testing program, the Texas Assessment of Basic Skills (TABS) began in 1980-81. The TABS tests measured basic skills in reading, writing and math. In 1987, Texas instituted the Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills (TEAMS) high school graduation exit test for 11th graders. In 1990, Texas replaced the TEAMS test with the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) as required by changes in statute. In 1993, again in response to legislation the Texas Education Agency (TEA) developed and integrated an accountability system for schools. In 1998, the statutorily required Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) replaced the "Essential Elements" as the state's curriculum. Legislation enacted in 1999 requires the development of a new assessment system to be anchored to exit-level tests at grade 11 and administered for the first time in 2003.

SBOE versus TEA Responsibilities

The State Board of Education (SBOE) establishes the TEKS that all students should learn1 and creates and implements the statewide testing program. 2 The SBOE also establishes the standards for what will be considered satisfactory student performance. 3

TEA on the other hand administers and monitors compliance with educational programs required by state or federal law. 4 The agency also establishes and maintains an electronic information transfer system. 5

The Commissioner of Education must prescribe a uniform system of forms, reports and records necessary for schools to fulfill the state's reporting and record keeping requirements. 6 The Commissioner also adopts or develops the assessment instruments (tests) 7 and specifies testing schedules. 8

TEA is responsible for test construction and contracts for the development and construction through external entities. TAAS is currently developed and constructed by National Computer Systems Pearson (NCS), a private corporation. NCS subcontracts the development of TAAS items to Harcourt Educational Measurement (HEM) and Beta, Incorporated.

Texas teachers and education professionals decide which portions of the curriculum should be measured by TAAS. Proposed TAAS questions are reviewed by subject-matter content experts, review committees of teachers and educators, test-construction experts and measurement experts. Selected questions are field-tested and a Data Review Committee reviews the results of field tests.

Who is Tested?

Students begin taking TAAS in the 3rd Grade. As a general rule, all students must be assessed. The grades tested under TAAS and the new assessment system under development are illustrated below.

Subject TAAS
(1994 - 2002)
New Assessment
(2003 and Beyond)
Mathematics 3 - 8, 10 3 - 11
Reading 3 - 8, 10 3 - 9
Writing, including spelling and grammar 4, 8, 10 4, 7
English Language Arts n/a 10, 11
Social Studies 8 8, 10, 11
Science 8 5, 10, 11
Source: Texas Education Agency

Currently, in 10th Grade, students take the "exit-level" TAAS- the exam they must pass to graduate. Students must pass each of three portions of the TAAS to graduate: reading, mathematics and writing. Students who do not pass the exit-level TAAS on the first attempt, are given up to seven additional opportunities to take and pass the TAAS before their scheduled graduation date. 9 Beginning with the class of 2005, students will be held to new graduation testing requirements, with testing beginning in grade 11. Those students must pass exit level tests in mathematics, covering Algebra I and Geometry; English Language Arts, covering English III, science, covering Biology and integrated chemistry and physics; and social studies, covering early American and U.S. history. Those not passing on the initial attempt will most likely have up to five additional opportunities to pass prior to the expected graduation date.

Special Education students, dyslexic students and students who are Limited English Proficient (LEP) are eligible for special accommodations during testing. Special education students may be tested on TAAS or, as of 2001, on the State-Developed Alternative Assessment (SDAA) for students not being taught the TEKS on grade level or for whom testing accommodations would invalidate the results. Administering a mathematics test orally for a student with a vision impairment is an example of a testing accommodation. 10 For LEP students, Spanish language tests are available in grades 3-6. Decisions about testing accommodations and which assessment is administered are made on an individual basis according to State Board of Education rule.

Exemptions from testing are allowed for certain groups of students who are enrolled in the tested grades. Special Education students not being taught the TEKS may be exempted from the SDAA. LEP students who are recent immigrants enrolled for less than one year (for 1999-2000 school year, enrolled less than 3 years) and LEP students with a primary language other than Spanish can be exempted by law. 11 All other LEP students must be tested on either the English or Spanish version of TAAS. 12

A Reading Proficiency Test in English (RPTE) is a new requirement enacted in 1999 by the 76th Legislature in SB 103. LEP students in grades 3-12 must take RPTE each year until proficient and taking TAAS in English. Those who are not proficient will be continue to be tested on both the RPTE and TAAS.

Testing Procedures

By administrative rule, procedures in test materials must be followed, and superintendents are responsible for compliance with testing requirements. 13

The SBOE is required to adopt rules to ensure the security of the contents of all tests. 14 The rules list examples of prohibited conduct such as changing answers or helping the students, but no mention is made in the rules of manipulating or failing to report all test data. Punishments for security violations can include losing one's teaching credentials.

Failure to pass any portion of the TAAS results in state-mandated remediation in the subject in which the student had difficulty. 15 There is no state-mandated approach to remediation, and remedial efforts vary among schools.

Beginning with the 2002-2003 school year, Section 28.0211 of the Texas Education Code will prohibit automatic promotion of 3rd grade students unless they pass the TAAS reading assessment after three attempts. Students can still be promoted if a grade-level placement committee made up of the principal, the student's teacher and a parent decides that the student will likely be able to perform on grade level. Beginning with the 2004-2005 school year, 5th grade students will not automatically be promoted unless they pass both mathematics and reading after three attempts. Beginning with the 2007-2008 school year, students in the 8th grade will not automatically be promoted unless they pass both mathematics and reading after three attempts. 16

The Academic Excellence Indicator System

The Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS), required by Texas Education Code Section 39.051 and adopted by the SBOE, serves as the basis for all accountability ratings, rewards and reports. Schools, administrators and teachers are held accountable for student TAAS performance. TAAS results are disaggregated among the following student groups: African American, Hispanic, white and economically disadvantaged. If one student group fails to meet minimum performance standards, a school district or school campus will receive a low accountability rating. 17

For 2000, each district and campus was assigned one of these ratings:

District Ratings
Standard Special Circumstances
Exemplary Academically Unacceptable: Special Accreditation Investigation
Recognized Charter
Academically Acceptable Suspended: Data Inquiry
Academically Unacceptable  
Campus Ratings
Standard Special Circumstances
Exemplary Not Rated
Recognized Alternative Education:
Acceptable - Acceptable - Not Rated
Low-performing - Needs Peer Review
  - Commended
  Suspended: Data Inquiry
Source: Texas Education Agency

Academic Excellence Indicators include base indicators, additional indicators and report-only indicators.

Base Indicators are those indicators that are used to determine accountability ratings using standard procedures. For 2000, the accountability system used three base indicators for all levels of ratings: Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) passing rates in reading, mathematics and writing; dropout rate; and attendance rate.

Districts and campuses also may receive recognition on the Additional Indicators (those performance indicators identified in the statute, but not used to determine ratings), if they achieved an Acceptable rating on the base indicators. The 2000 additional indicators were: college admissions testing results; TAAS/TASP equivalency; participation in the SBOE's recommended high school program; comparable improvement for reading; and comparable improvement for mathematics. Report-only Indicators are those indicators specified in statute that are reported annually on AEIS reports and / or the School Report Card. State law does not distinguish between Base and Additional Indicators. Section 39.072 of the Education Code allows other factors to be considered in determining a school's performance rating such as compliance with education laws and regulations and reporting data through PEIMS, but the current performance rating process used by TEA does not rate a school based on the optional factors. 18

Chapter 39, Subchapter E of the Education Code authorizes monetary rewards for high performing or improving schools. The Texas Successful Schools Award System (TSSAS) provides campusesmonetary awards; normally about $5 million for a biennium. Awards are directed to those schools rated Exemplary, Recognized or Acceptable with significant gains in student performance. In February 2000, almost 800 schools received TSSAS awards. The highest performing districts and campuses are also exempted by statute from some regulations and requirements. 19

District and campus AEIS Reports show schools' performance on base, additional and report-only performance indicators as well as profile data items on student, staff and financial information.

TEA also provides each district a custom School Report Card, as required which the school in turn must provide to each student's family. 20 School boards must publish an annual report describing the district's educational performance. 21

Typical release dates for ratings, reports and rewards are listed below:

  • Spring - Students take the TAAS.
  • August - Ratings for districts and campuses are released.
  • October -TEA issues AEIS Reports to districts and campuses.
  • November -TEA provides School Report Cards to all districts for each campus.
  • Winter - Reward program notification. TEA notifies schools of financial rewards provided through the TSSAS program.

Responsibilities and Duties of the Texas Education Agency and the Commissioner of Education

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) consists of the Commissioner of Education and the agency staff. 22 TEA administers and monitors compliance with educational programs required by federal or state law. As mentioned above, TEA also must establish and maintain an electronic information transfer system as required under Section 32.032 of the Texas Education Code. 23

The Governor appoints the Commissioner of Education for a term of 4 years commensurate with the Governor's term. 24 The Commissioner serves as Executive Officer of TEA and as Executive Secretary of the State Board of Education25 and carries out the duties imposed on the Commissioner by the board or the Legislature.

In addition, the Commissioner must:

  • prescribe a uniform system of forms, reports and records necessary to fulfill the reporting and record keeping requirements of the Education Code but may delegate administrative and executive functions to agency staff; 26
  • publish a manual at least once every two years containing portions of the Education Code or other state laws that relate to public primary or secondary education; 27
  • adopt a recommended appraisal process and criteria on which to appraise the performance of teachers, administrators and counselors; 28
  • ensure the cost of using school buses for a purpose other than the transportation of students to or from school is properly identified in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) under Section 34.010; 29
  • perform duties in connection with the public school accountability system, which are prescribed by Chapter 39 of the Education Code; and 30
  • suspend the certificate of an educator or permit of a teacher who violates Chapter 617, Government Code (relating to collective bargaining and strikes). 31 The Texas Education Code 21.031-21.041 (b)(7) gives this responsibility to the State Board for Educator Certification.