(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
So Texas once had a system of testing and accountability that was the envy of the nation. Texas boasted the highest Hispanic scores on NAEP in the nation not so long ago for instance. The Texas system served as the basis for the No Child Left Behind Act that required testing in grades 3-8 and once in high-school in return for federal education dollars.
The Texas system grew long in the tooth over time. Other states developed better standards and better testing systems and embraced more parental choice while Texas seemed to rest on its laurels. The Houston Chronicle revealed statistical hocus pocus that greatly inflated the number of highly rated schools committed by the Texas Education Agency. Gnomes in the basement of your state education agency can wreak havoc with any centralized system. Still, a system that gets you into the upper-left quadrant of the above chart (relatively low spending increase per pupil, relatively high gains on NAEP) was probably doing something right, especially if you are absorbing a Wyoming public school system sized cohort of additional students every year.
A toxic mixture of reformer overreach, devious alphabet soup group plotting and populist uprising has left this once proud system as a complete train-wreck. I will attempt to summarize this wreck in a single chart:
So only a large minority of Texas students can do grade level work on NAEP in any given subject, 91% of schools got a “met standard” label under the new “pass/fail” accountability system currently used during this brave new world of accountability chaos. This is an accountability system the reminds me of:
These labels are supposed to be transitional, but there will doubtlessly be efforts to codify them into statute during the 2015 legislative session. I could go on at some length about what a mess that the high-school end of course exam system has become, but I will spare you. Go and read the Dallas Morning News series linked to in the previous post if you’d like a detailed blow-by-blow on who all is to blame on this, but my own take is that there is plenty of blame to go around on both the reformer and alphabet soup side. The parents involved had genuine grievances regarding the testing system, but also must share in the blame for what is now a bad joke of a system.
Texans need to engage in a vigorous debate over what it is that they desire out of their system of academic testing and transparency. If the answer is “nothing really we just want to go through the motions of having such a system” then the legislature can codify pass/fail and further dummy down the high-school testing system. Trophies for everyone, a long era of academic stagnation awaits.
If not, then reformers might need to persuade parental activists to exercise greater responsibility to go along with their influence. Hopefully the Texas reform tribe has grown sadder and wiser as well.