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STEPHEN HEMELT — House Bill 4545, Senate Bill 1697 upping demands on local school districts

Dr. Stuart Kieschnick acknowledged this month what educators across Port Arthur and Mid County are experiencing in the build-up to another unprecedented school year.

Last year was a year like teachers and administrators had never seen and there is, no doubt, students who experienced learning loss.

“In response, the legislature passed bills that would help students regain that learning lost,” Kieschnick said. “We are currently working through the details of House Bill 4545 and Senate Bill 1697. Our curriculum department and administrative team have been actively researching methods and practices to implement the requirements in ways that best serve the students of Nederland ISD.”

Kieschnick is the superintendent of schools with Nederland ISD, but the benefits and challenges that come with House Bill 4545 and Senate Bill 1697 are going to impact students across Jefferson County (and the entire state of Texas).

HB 4545 calls for the elimination of grade retention and retesting requirements in grades 5 and 8.

For any student who does not pass the STAAR test in grade 3, 5, or 8 in math or reading, a new LEA requirement to establish an accelerated learning committee to develop an individual educational plan for the student and monitor progress.

For any student who does not pass the STAAR test in grades 3–8 or STAAR (EOC) end-of-course assessments, clarification of prior accelerated instruction requirements, specifying that it must include either:

  • Being assigned a classroom teacher who is a certified master, exemplary, or recognized teacher or
  • Receiving supplemental instruction (tutoring) before or after school, or embedded in the school day

SB 1697 establishes a new parental option for student retention that allows parents or guardians to opt to have their child:

  • Repeat prekindergarten
  • Enroll in prekindergarten if the child was eligible to enroll in prekindergarten in the previous school year and has not yet enrolled in kindergarten
  • Repeat kindergarten if student passed out of it
  • For grades one through three, repeat the grade the student was enrolled in the previous school year
  • For grades four through eight, repeat the grade the student was enrolled in during the 2020-2021 school year
  • For courses taken for high school credit, repeat any course in which the student was enrolled during the 2020-2021 school year.

School Districts across the state are now required to provide 30 hours of small-group intervention to anyone who did not pass the STAR test. The effort is quite involved and administrators must utilize personnel and programs that meet pre-set criteria benchmarks.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Dr. Steven Beagle of Nederland ISD said the measures have a lot of merit are quite involved. He said administrators have set up spreadsheets with all students, the subjects they failed and whether they were in-person or virtual last academic year.

“We may have not dedicated 30 hours of intervention time in the past,” he said. “This, you will need to track and document all the time you are spending with interventions with these students.”

Administrators are considering adding flex times to the class schedule, because the mandates don’t allow schools to pull students out of recess, physical education or electives.

High-impact tutoring and master teachers have been mandated to assist in the process.

How our local school districts meet these challenges will go a long to reversing the learning lost by more than a full year of pandemic infused disadvantageous.

Stephen Hemelt is the president of Port Arthur Newsmedia, which publishes The Port Arthur News, panews.com and other products. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@panews.com or 409-721-2445.

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