Texas at Forefront of Teaching Phonics

Jan 21, 2020 by

“Texas at Forefront of Teaching Phonics”

By Donna Garner



Texas HB 3 not only requires teachers to use systematic, direct instruction of phonics in K –  3, but the bill also requires all teachers and principals in K – 3 to attend a teacher literacy achievement academy where they will be instructed in the scientific study of reading [i.e., phonemic awareness/decoding skills/phonics]. 

All applicants who get their teaching certificates for Pre-K through Grade 6 after Jan. 1, 2021 must demonstrate mastery on a certification exam (any class of certificate) of the scientific study of reading.  


This video was released by the Texas Education Agency on 9.12.19:  READING PRACTICEShttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SwCb2Oq_KE

This excellent video explains how the new requirement in HB 3 regarding the scientific reading research (e.g., phonemic awareness, phonics) is being implemented into every Texas public school (including charters).

[Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath gave his presentation on Sept. 13, 2019 at the Texas State Board of Education meeting.  Now you can listen and watch the Commissioner for yourself by going to the TEA archive at http://www.adminmonitor.com/tx/tea/general_meeting/20190913/.   Please click on the right side of the page on “Commissioner’s Comments,” and you will be taken directly to marker 44:10 through 1:47:35.  If you really want to know what is happening in Texas public schools, it is best to get the latest news from the Commissioner himself.]


During the next three years, about 80,000 Texas educators will be trained in the scientific reading instruction.  Because of the logistics of training about 80,000 teachers, there is an application for those who want to be “authorized providers” of the reading academies.

It is possible for area, county, or regional service centers to collaborate to provide the reading training; but all materials used will have to be the same TEA-produced scientific reading curriculum and competency evaluations.


A question was asked about the two types of reading academies being implemented in Texas – (1) face-to-face vs. (2) online. 

Comm. Morath said that evidence shows job-embedded coaching is the most effective (and also the most expensive).

Here are the two models the TEA has developed: 

Comprehensive Model – In this model educators get ten days of in-person professional development. Twice per semester they have job-embedded instructional coaching; therefore, it is really a year-long reading academy which is very focused.  The teachers prepare artifacts which are evaluated for completion.

The feedback from the participants in this model (1:60 per instructional coach) so far is very positive and is having a real impact on instruction.  The problem is that the Comprehensive Model is basically impossible to provide for all 80,000+  teachers in Texas.

Blended Model – This online model has the same content and same artifacts that face-to-face teachers are required to produce. One difference with this model is that the participants must demonstrate proficiency in their artifacts to get credit (not just completion as in the Comprehensive Model).

The Commissioner also said that the TEA is very aware that there are some teachers who do not need year-long training and is working on a type of “test-out” framework which would better target TEA’s resources more effectively.

So far as expense to the districts, HB 3 gave Texas ISD’s an extra $3 Billion of new money with districts having to divide their allotment as 1/3 for teacher pay raises, 1/3 Pre-K requirements, and 1/3 for Reading Academies. 


The concern was raised about teachers coming out of Texas colleges and universities without being trained in scientific reading/phonemic awareness/phonics. Commissioner Morath said that HB 3 makes it clear that every single teacher in Texas who is to be certified in 6th grade and lower will have to demonstrate competency on scientific reading skills on the teacher certification exam/alternative certification program.

If Texas college/university teacher-prep students do not pass the tests, those colleges/universities will soon lose their teacher-prep accreditation.

To help Texas colleges/universities, the TEA is making all of its scientific reading curriculum free to Texas college/university, teacher-prep programs and will be available to assist professors and students over the next three years.


Commissioner Morath and teachers alike are concerned about the students in Grades 4 through Grade 8 (the “gap” students who have not been taught to read proficiently through direct, systematic instruction of phonemic awareness/decoding skills (phonics). He said that the reading levels of those students can be raised through the cognitively demanding, rich texts of the Western canon (a.k.a., traditional classics).  

He pointed out that these “gap” students could be helped by teaching them the building block instruction of phonics and decoding, using many of the same techniques used by teachers who work with dyslexic students (e.g., having students touch their throats and/or look at the shape of their lips when they say a particular phoneme).


The Commissioner said that teachers will be highly involved in the development of the new STAAR test questions per HB 3906.  As implemented by the Texas Education Agency, here are the different committees:

1.  Item Review Committees are already in place in which grade-level teachers of that content area go over each-and-every item on the STAAR tests. Each teacher must approve every test item based on a series of questions:

Is the question free from bias?

Is the question aligned to the TEKS?

Is the test question on grade level with the appropriate readability of students in that grade?

Would your students be able to answer this question accurately by the end of the school year?

2.  The Summer Teacher Institute (started by Comm. Morath several years ago) is focused on STAAR and is an intense process which helps teachers to develop new test questions rather than simply reviewing them.  Some 200 teachers were involved in the Institute this last summer.

3.  Reading Standards K-3 Advisory Committee required under HB 3/3906 — The Reading Standards K-3 Advisory Committee was begun in August 2019 to assist the TEA in fulfilling their duties relating to reading standards for kindergarten through third grade.

The advisory committee will consist of 20-25 members, appointed by the commissioner, with academic and/or practical expertise in one or more of the following areas: early childhood; developmental literacy; biliteracy; English learners; and dyslexia or special education.

All efforts are being made to make sure that the teachers on this committee do not have to miss too much instructional time in their classes.  A process is being devised whereby some of the work could be done by webinar and in which substitute teachers are paid for a ½ day of work while the Reading Standards K-3 Advisory Committee teachers participate from their campuses.


Comm. Morath stated that he has no discretion because he must take action as directed by the statutes.  If a charter school has three straight years of academically unacceptable performance, then the entire charter system is closed.

If an ISD has five straight years of academically unacceptable performance, then the Commissioner is mandated to intervene. The Commissioner has no discretion over the ISD five-year rule. Either the campus must be closed or a Board of Managers for the entire district must be chosen.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Sandy Kress

    This is probably the only truly valuable piece of HB3. Helluva huge price to pay just to get this. Think of all the good in Texas policy that was wiped out in 2011 and 2013. None of it has been restored. Yet, the state paid out all the money it has (and more). My prediction: the flat-to-down trajectory in student achievement will continue, this action on reading notwithstanding.

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