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Texas' Leadership in Public School Accountability Is Scary

After hearing Walt Haney testify against our school funding system in an Austin state district court last week, it is frightening that other states and Congress are looking to Texas for a model of making public schools accountable.

The Boston College education professor and researcher detailed how, contrary to our schools' self-reported dropout statistics, 40 percent of Texas' largest districts don't even graduate the 74 percent the Texas Education Agency requires for a passing grade.

For TEA, virtually all schools are at least "acceptable," and its lists of "recognized" and "exemplary" schools are exploding.

In cross-examination, the state's attorneys walked Haney through the long list of "leaver" categories that TEA uses to support its outlandish claim that statewide, 1 percent of students are dropouts.

When the numbers in all the leaver categories are added to the state's few official dropouts, the state lawyers asked, aren't TEA's numbers "in the ballpark" with his? Haney responded that while the percentages may seem similar, in our Texas-size ballpark, "each percentage point is hundreds of thousands of kids."

But Texas' flimflam dropout rates aren't the only thing Haney's research has uncovered.

It was he who documented the huge growth in Texas' special education rolls and pointed out that those students' test scores aren't computed in school performance determinations. Haney also documented the 20 percent growth of kids flunked before grade 10 and before they can take the 10th grade exam they might flunk.

"It's a sign of a school system in deep trouble," he said. "The research is clear that simply flunking kids is not a sound educational strategy because it increases dramatically the rate at which they will drop out of school."

The Texas school accountability system, like those other states are adopting and the federal No Child Left Behind Act relies heavily on standardized testing.

The Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills (TEAMS) was first administered in 1985 and it produced less than stellar results. Every year thereafter, however, TEAMS scores rose until 1990, when it was replaced with the "superior" Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS).

Like TEAMS, first-year TAAS scores were not good, but beginning the next year they improved every year until it, too, was replaced by yet another allegedly superior test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).

Now, other states also are replicating this Texas innovation by replacing their standardized tests.

"States unveil new testing programs because it is a very savvy strategy for political leaders," Haney observed. "Nobody knows what it's about and in the first year, the results tend to be poor, which documents that, 'Yes, there was a problem.'

"But then, after two or three years, people learn the tricks of the new test and the results improve dramatically," he said.

"So for the aspiring politician, introducing a new testing program is very cheap compared to actually paying for great teachers. You introduce it and the results are poor and, 'See, that's the problem that I'm addressing.'

"And as the results improve as everybody learns the tricks, they can say, 'I identified the problem and made dramatic progress in solving it in only three, four years which happens to be the length of my term."

And on to the White House!

To leave a message for Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail cguerra@express-news.net.

— Carlos Guerra
San Antonio Express-News


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