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NCLB Outrages

School ratings lacking context and perspective are misleading

NOTE: These failing ratings aren't blamed on NCLB but on Texas's own Texas Education Agency.

by Ken Rodriguez

If you believe the latest federal ratings of public schools, Madison High is "inadequate."

If you believe the latest state ratings, Anderson High in Austin is "unacceptable."

But if you look behind the ratings and scrutinize scores from the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, a brighter picture emerges.

At Madison, 81 percent of 606 students tested passed the reading/language arts portion of TAKS, far above the federal standard of 53 percent.

In math, 67 percent passed. That might not be great, but the federal standard is 42 percent.

A breakdown of test scores shows that all subgroups Hispanics, African Americans, Anglos, the economically disadvantaged, the learning disabled passed math.

Every subgroup, except one, passed reading/language arts. Unfortunately for Madison, only 41 of 82 special-ed students met the federal reading standard.

As a result, Madison flunked what the U.S. Department of Education calls "Adequate Yearly Progress."

What's missing from the AYP designation is context.

To dismiss Madison as "inadequate" is to ignore the bigger picture. Among every subgroup, Madison exceeds federal standards except for the special-ed reading scores of 41 students, or 7 percent of those tested.

Now consider Anderson High. >i>Newsweek magazine ranks the school among the nation's best. The Texas Education Agency ranks Anderson among the state's worst.

You decide who is closer to the truth. TAKS scores show:

97 percent of Anderson students passed social studies.

92 percent passed reading and English/language arts.

91 percent passed science.

89 percent passed math.

Among subgroups, African Americans, Hispanics, Anglos and the economically disadvantaged breezed through TAKS.

Learning-disabled students, however, did not fare as well. Only 44 percent of 117 passed a new, more difficult Student Development Alternative Assessment Test (SDAAII).

In short, the overall student body came within 1 percentage point (89 in math) of earning an "exemplary" rating.

But TEA judged Anderson "unacceptable." TEA based the rating on the alternative test scores of one subgroup that comprises less than 10 percent of the student body.

Anderson isn't the only high-performing school to flunk the state standard. At Coppell High, 88 percent to 97 percent of 1,921 students passed the four components of TAKS.

But TEA rated Coppell "unacceptable" because only 30 of 69 special-ed students passed the SDAAII.

In San Antonio, 83 to 96 percent of Churchill students passed the four subjects on TAKS. But TEA flunked Churchill because only 24 of 60 special-ed students passed the alternative test.

Across the state, 95 schools received "unacceptable" ratings only because of low special-ed scores.

Some believe TEA graded Anderson, Coppell, Churchill and others harshly to comply with federal guidelines from No Child Left Behind. Not true. The feds don't tell TEA how to rate schools.

"The accountability rating is from Texas and Texas only," says TEA commissioner Shirley Neeley.

In other words, TEA takes full credit for a bone-headed rating system.

While it's true the feds require TEA to test all students, it's also true that TEA created its rating system long before No Child Left Behind.

When No Child Left Behind became law, TEA failed to adjust its rating system.

How can TEA justify flunking high-performing schools like Anderson, Coppell and Churchill?

It can't.

"I understand the concern you are raising and it's one of the hardest situations to explain," said TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe.

Neeley agrees. When asked about schools rated as failures when 80-plus percent pass the TAKS, she didn't offer any excuses. "I agree with you," she said, "it doesn't seem fair."

But Neeley added: If schools want to right a perceived wrong, they can appeal. She offers no guarantees. Wonderful.

The state calls some excellent schools "unacceptable." The federal government calls some good schools "inadequate."

Maybe that explains why public education is backward.

To contact Ken Rodriguez, call (210) 250-3369 or e-mail krodriguez@express-news.net. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

— Ken Rodriguez
San Antonio Express-News


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