AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner testified at the first meeting of the Texas Senate Public Education committee on Wednesday, and gave an update on the state of public education in Texas and the implementation of HB 4545.

In his presentation, Morath says that the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the education of Texas Children, creating a deficit that put Texas below its 2022 goals.

“[4545] was designed to attack this problem,” Morath said. “My conclusion is that the preliminary evidence is yes, 4545 is having a positive effect. Now, I will tell you, 4545 is no walk in the park. It is a significant operational shift for districts to implement.”

HB 4545, which was put into effect on June 16, 2021, requires Texas’ ISDs to have an accelerated learning committee develop individual educational plans for any 3rd, 5th or 8th grade student that fail the math or reading State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests. It also requires ISDs to provide tutoring and particular classroom assignments to 3rd-8th grade students who fail the STAAR end-of-course assessments.

“[These] math declines are equivalent to all improvement in public education that occurred over the course of about a 10 to 20 year period. So every policy that has been made by the legislature, every iterative dollar that’s been invested by the legislature to improve how we educate kids was all wiped out in a year and a half. And so that’s, I mean, that’s a historic decline in student proficiency,” Morath said in response to a question about the pandemic’s impact.

Morath calls the 4545 implementation an “all hands on deck” situation, necessitating ISDs to have teachers to work extra hours and bring in retired teachers to help handle the extra work.

“If everybody’s doing it at the same time, staff people don’t just fall out of the sky,” Morath said. “This has been a very difficult law to implement with fidelity. But even with the difficulties, it would appear that there’s been significant improvement and rates of acceleration.”

The committee asked Morath what could be done to help ISDs with the 4545; in response, he cited the accelerated learning committees as a possible aspect to remove. The bill, according to Morath, has a set of “minimum standards for acceleration” for these committees to implement, making the accelerated learning committees’ work mostly unnecessary.

“You could probably get rid of accelerated learning committees and not see any any student harm and and save a significant amount of staff time and paperwork,” Morath said.