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Testing Expert Believes "Texas Miracle in Education" is a Fraud

From his office at Boston College, Walt Haney, education prof and researcher at the Center for the Study of Testing Evaluation and Educational Policy, wouldn't talk about his testimony today in Texas' school-funding trial. But if his past is indicative, don't be surprised if he drops a bombshell.

In 1999, Haney dissected the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills in a federal courtroom and showed that, contrary to claims made by state officials and then-Gov. George W. Bush, rising TAAS scores did not mean Texas schools had improved significantly.

Instead, the higher scores were the result of schools retaining more kids in the ninth grade so they wouldn't take the 10th-grade exam; placing more students in special education programs so their test scores wouldn't count in schools' overall grades; and redefining dropouts out of existence and manipulating the score computations.

It was a smoke-and-mirrors "miracle" substantiated with hocus-pocus statistical methods, but few outside of Texas learned of Haney's revelations. So, a year later when the Bush presidential campaign bragged about Texas' two-part "education miracle" of vastly improved schools after taxes were cut, many bought into the myth and called for its replication elsewhere.

And when two months before the 2000 presidential election Haney released his exhaustive documentation of the illusion of Texas' improved educational attainment especially by minority students many dismissed it as a politically motivated product of a Yankee elitist.

After taking office, President Bush moved quickly to replicate the Texas miracle nationally, pushing the No Child Left Behind Act, with its heavy reliance on testing, through Congress. And he pushed through a series of tax cuts so weighted to the wealthiest Americans that one Washington Post reader characterized them as "deficit attention disorder, or No Rothschild Left Behind."

Haney, a Corpus Christi native, has continued studying Texas' and other states' school systems and he shared some of his findings on the eve of his return.

"When I wrote the 'Myth of the Texas Miracle in Education' three years ago, I described it as 'myth,'" he said. "But it's pretty clear now that it has become something of a fraud."

And Haney worries that other states are now replicating Texas' flawed educational strategies.

"An educational system that loses 30 percent of its students, overall and 40 percent of black and Hispanic students, statewide is nothing to be applauded," he said. "And this ill-conceived test-based accountability is leading to the same in other states.

"Pressure to raise test scores leads to schools encouraging kids that don't test well to leave school. Since (New York) started using its test-based accountability system, it has had a precipitous decline in graduation rates, and now it has a rate that's worse than a lot of the southern states that, historically, have had the worst graduation rates."

Asked if graduation rates are related to funding, Haney paused.

"I haven't been asked to address finance issues directly," he said. "But it is revealing in the graduation rates in the 50 largest school districts in Texas, the only ones with what might be called 'reasonable' graduation rates, in excess of 80 percent, were all rich districts that are spending a lot more money than districts generally."

I'm sure it isn't because they're throwing money at the problem.

— Carlos Guerra
SanAntonio Express-News


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