Monday, October 2, 2017

Texas Education Code and Lesson Plans - Part II

           I received a message after last week’s blog post from a former teacher who expressed that she had no idea Texas has had a Paperwork Reduction Act on the books since 1997. Funny, I thought; it seems there are countless administrators in the state who don’t know, either.  (Shout out to those who do and who follow it!)
            In Part I on this topic, I addressed the 2015 Ysleta ISD. v. Porter, et al. case heard by the Texas Court of Appeals and the analysis of the case by attorney Martha P. Owen, who also serves as general counsel for Texas AFT.
            The three teachers involved in the case, Edith Porter, Jennifer Adams, and Rita Vasquez, argued that the list of components required on their lesson plans—TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) objectives, TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, the state’s standardized test, which has since been replaced by the STAAR) objectives, lesson objectives, lesson activities and strategies, assessment and cognitive level, differentiated activities and/or modifications for special populations, and homework—went well beyond the Paperwork Reduction Act’s requirement that high school lesson plans consist of a “brief and general outline.”  (Originally, the teachers had to write out every TEKS objective, but later, the district decided they only had to write the number of the objective, which weakened this argument.)  Owen wrote in her analysis about the Court of Appeals’ decision that “…it determined that a school district may only require that a teacher write a plan that ‘outlines the information presented, which by definition includes what is taught and the activities used to teach the lesson.’”   Thus, the teachers based their second argument in their appeal on the fact that some lesson plan components administrators required them to include did not meet the standard of “information presented.”
            Owen explained that the teachers lost their first argument because their lesson plan template was electronic, allowing them to “cut and paste” some required elements.  The court also rejected the teachers’ argument that proper interpretation of the state statute regarding the Paperwork Reduction Act (TEC Sec. 11.164 ) indicates that teachers should decide what goes in the lesson plan, not administrators, and that the district could not require them to use a template.
            However, the Court of Appeals sided with the teachers regarding some of their required lesson plan components.  Owen’s analysis explained the court’s ruling that TEKS and TAKS objectives could be required “because there was evidence that these objectives were taught to the students.”  Resources the teachers needed for the activities could also be required.
            The components the district could not require, the Court of Appeals ruled, because they do not meet the standard of “information presented” were assessments, differentiated activities and/or modifications for special populations, and cognitive level.
            Last year, a teacher sent an email to me asking if her school/district could require her to write the ELPS (English Language Proficiency Standards for English Language Learners) in her lesson plans.  I contact Texas AFT for an answer to this, and received a response from Jamie Womack, later confirmed by Owen.  Jamie wrote that because “ELPS are considered part of the TEKS,” they could be required. Owen agreed, though she wrote, “…it does seem like a fairly close question, and I can understand the argument going both ways.  However, I go back to the core holding in the lawsuit, which is that the district may not require the inclusion of information that is neither taught nor describes the activities that will be used to teach the subject matter. So, as Jamie said, since ELPS are part of the required curriculum, it seems like, on balance, a challenge to the ELPS inclusion requirement would likely not succeed.”
            In the final analysis, according to the court decision, what can and cannot be required in a Texas teacher’s lesson plan?  Remember the standard:  Is it presented/taught to the students in class and/or is it an activity used to teach the students in class?

TEKS and STAAR (the TAKS replacement) objectives?  Yes
Lesson activities, strategies, and resources?  Yes
Assessment and cognitive level?  No
Differentiated activities and/or modifications for special populations?  No
Homework?  The court did not address this in it’s decision; however, I would say it does not meet the standard of “information presented.”  Thus, I would say NO!

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Sarina Manahan)

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