Despite Focus on Student Mental Health by the Texas Legislature, Counselors Still Not Mandated in Every School

After the Santa Fe shooting in 2018, Governor Greg Abbott hosted a series of roundtables on school safety and corollary student mental health concerns. Among the proposals that came out of those roundtables was one that would increase the number of school counselors, those on the front lines of students’ emotional and behavioral health. 

The Texas Legislature passed a few bills this year which addressed student mental health as it concerns school counselors. They include HB 3, the omnibus school finance bill, SB 11, the chief school safety bill, and HB 18, which changed curriculum and training requirements on mental health in schools. However, none of these proposals require school counselors in every school, something over 30 other states have mandated. No such bill was filed this session.

What the three latter bills did do was put protocols in place that would ostensibly create more opportunities for school counselors, deemed the most qualified to provide mandated services to students. For example, HB 18 required the Texas Model for Comprehensive Counseling Programs as the foundation every school counselor should use, and this was complementary to SB 11’s new requirements on trauma-informed care that fall under the program’s purview.

One issue overworked school counselors must fight against is the amount of time they spend on administrative duties and testing, which takes time away from counseling students. One measure aimed to limit the amount of time school counselors could spend on non-counseling duties died in Calendars Committee. The bill would have capped the time counselors could spend on non-counseling duties at 20 percent. 

A third measure to set ratios for counselors to students of 1:500 also failed in committee, largely because of a large fiscal note, according to Jan Friese, executive director of the Texas Counseling Association. She added a caveat that the bill simplified the issue too much. Ratios in elementary schools can be even higher than 1:500 because younger students don’t require as much individual planning as middle or high school students, for example. Though the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of one counselor for every 250 students, Houston Public Media reported that “for every public school counselor in Texas [in the 2018] school year, there were almost 450 students.”

HB 18 also requires schools to notify parents on their website when a school counselor or a registered nurse is working full time at a campus. In this case, no notice means there is no counselor at the campus. Advocates believe this could provide some accountability to parents who could then put pressure on school boards to hire more counselors. Some additional funding, via HB3 and SB11, allows school boards flexibility for pay raises and potentially hiring more counselors.

TEA to release ratings — school districts will have to deal with the consequences

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will release its ratings for the state’s school districts and campuses this week, leaving school administrators anxiously awaiting an A-F letter grade. In August 2018, the agency released the newly designed tiered rating system meant to holistically rate schools and school districts in three designated areas: student achievement, school progress, and closing the gaps.

To understand how the state “grades” schools, it’s helpful to know what each of these areas entails.

Student Achievement—what students know, and what they can do 

Measured via: Test scores, graduation rates, college, career, and military preparedness metrics

Student achievement is measured in elementary and middle schools using students’ STAAR test results. For high schools and school districts, the TEA rating is calculated using the following formula: STAAR (40%), college, career and military readiness (40%), and the graduation rate (20%). 

  • The College Career and Military Readiness (CCMR) includes points for different elements of student achievement. College focus is measured using passing AP scores, meeting college prep course criteria, dual credit completion, and associate’s degrees. Students can also get credit for military enlistment. Career readiness is determined based on students earning an industry-based certification, workforce readiness completion, or graduating with an advanced degree while being identified as a student who receives special education services. 
  • To get the student achievement domain score, the school needs the percentage of students who go approaches, meets, and masters and the, divide them by three. 

School Progress—comparing students to determine where they stand in relation to others and to their own previous performance

Measured via: state exam performance and individual student improvement

School progress is measured by improved performance on state exams and comparisons based on similar districts and campuses. Schools can get credit for meeting or exceeding previous goals. 

  • If students don’t pass the exam but show significant growth, they still contribute to the success of the rating. 
  • If students are performing at or above similar schools (for instance, if the school has a 75% economically disadvantaged population and scores above schools in that same section) they can get credit for that in the rating.

Closing the Gaps—looks at different groups of students to find out if they need more focused support

Measured via the following groups: all students, race/ethnicity, economically disadvantaged status, current special education, former special education, current and monitored English learners, continuously enrolled, non-continuously enrolled.

This score is derived from the performance of certain groups of students and their success in academic achievement, federal graduation/growth status, English language proficiency, and school quality/student success. If these student groups reach the achievement targets, the school can get credit for that improvement. This section makes up 30% of the overall rating. 

The TEA’s scoring guide chart notes that after calculating each subsection, an average will follow the equation, which leads to the designated letter score: 

  • 90-100 for an A
  •  80-89 for a B
  •  70-79 for a C
  •  60-69 for a D
  • less than or equal to 59 for a F

What do these ratings mean for schools?

Unless a campus is given an F rating, schools and school districts work internally to raise their scores. If a school is graded “F,” the TEA intervenes; five consecutive years of F ratings could result in campus closure or the installation of a board of managers to replace the elected school board.

Failing schools must notify students’ parents/guardians, follow specific directives from the commissioner, and allow consistent visitors and oversight from the agency. 

While some education advocates say the TEA rating system is not a good representation of the work education professionals are doing, others stand by the ratings as holistic scoring systems.

Gov. Abbott Anounces Special Election for Fort Bend State House Seat

Following Rep. John Zerwas’ recent resignation announcement, Gov. Greg Abbott officially issued a proclamation today to announce Tuesday, November 5, 2019, as the special election date to fill the vacated Texas House of Representatives District 28 seat.

Eyes will be on the election in the competitive district, which spans the Katy to Rosenberg areas entirely in Fort Bend County. In 2018, Zerwas won re-election by 8 percentage points, but Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz just narrowly beat Democrat Beto O’Rourke by 3 points there, reflecting the area’s changing demographics and possible trend leftward.

Democrat Dr. Eliz Markowitz announced her candidacy for the seat this year after previously running for State Board of Education in 2018.

Republican attorney Tricia Krenek announced her candidacy for the seat last week. She previously served as Fulshear City Councilmember from 2014-2018.

The deadline for candidates to file with the Secretary of State to be on the ballot is Wednesday, September 4, at 5 p.m.

To qualify as a candidate for the Texas House, one must be a US citizen, a qualified elector of the state, at least 21 years old, have been a resident of Texas for 2 years immediately preceding election, and for 1 year immediately preceding election must have been a resident of the district in which they intend to represent.

Early voting is Monday, October 21.