While I fully agree, I believe attention must be paid to important additional facts that give us a deeper understanding of the problem as well as steps we must take to fix it.
This exercise begins with a recognition of the remarkable progress all students, including Latino students, have made in Texas during the era of accountability. The news has actually, in many ways, been quite good. We must know this and appreciate what caused it. Progress from here, which is very much needed, will depend on our continuing the good things that have been done and augment where needed to make even greater gains.
On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Hispanic 8th graders in Texas experienced a remarkable growth of 38 scale score points from 1990 to 2011 (245-283). According to experts, this amounts roughly to a rather stunning improvement of four grade levels.
In 4th grade math, Hispanic students’ achievement grew by 28 points (208 to 236) by 2007 (an almost three grade level improvement). In 4th grade reading, the growth to 2007 was 12 points. Unfortunately, all subgroups have been flat in 8th grade reading.
Here’s the most serious problem: these gains have stalled in recent years. There was actually a loss of 6 points in 8th grade math from 2011 to 2015. 4th grade math, 4th grade reading, and 8th grade reading have been flat over the past eight years.
The same phenomenon has played out with respect to the lagging indicator of enrollment and success in higher education. Growth in Hispanic enrollment tripled and was in line with targets of the Closing the Gaps initiative of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board from 2005 to 2011. Yet, the growth since has slowed so much that we are now trending much lower than the target. Likewise, while the attainment of higher ed credentials by Hispanic students roughly doubled from 2006 to 2012, the pace since has slowed considerably as well.
I have documented elsewhere the many ways in which accountability has been eviscerated in Texas since the late 2000s. I have also documented the many ways that the state has watered down the policies that had been established in the 2000s to improve secondary education and generate more college ready students all across the state. I won’t attempt to repeat those facts and lessons here, but I will make a few key points to illustrate how these changes have actually worsened the problems pointed out by Mr. Sosa.
As Mr. Sosa suggests, we need to be honest about the value add of schools and teachers and improve that contribution. Yet, even though college readiness is well below 50% for all students, and much lower for Hispanic students, Texas now says that almost 90% of schools “meet standard” and an even higher percentage of teachers are “effective.”
There is now both less pressure AND less help for schools and teachers to improve. Is there any wonder that student growth has stalled?
Let’s put aside the decision dramatically to reduce high school testing and the consequences the state had instituted in the 2000s to raise the bar as a part of a campaign to graduate more students ready for college. Rather, let’s just focus here on the dumbing down of the curriculum in that legislation. Despite the rigorous requirements to get good STEM jobs, students no longer need to take a science course beyond biology or a math course beyond geometry to get most variations of a diploma. Students no longer need to pass the state exams in Algebra I or English II even after multiple tries, if their districts waive them through. This wouldn’t be quite as worrisome but for the fact that districts have waived almost 90% of those seeking a waiver.
We want ever-increasing percentages of all students to graduate high school ready for college and good jobs and able to get the additional credentials that will get them even better jobs.
Yet, notwithstanding the extraordinary progress our students made throughout the 90s and the 2000s, we’ve weakened accountability and lowered standards in the last 5-7 years. We’re already seeing a stagnation in levels of achievement. Further, we have policies now in place that will almost certainly continue stagnation or even cause declines, especially at the secondary level. All this is happening at the time, as Mr. Sosa says so powerfully, we need to be accelerating the pace forward, not falling back.
We must get back on track and actually speed up the progress we were making. Or else, these declines will truly lead to a disaster for our children and our state.