In my view, one huge contributing factor to Texas’ recent decline is that the powers-that-be act blind to the fact that we have declined. Indeed, many who brought on the policies that are most directly responsible for the decline are attempting to mislead the public into thinking all is great in the Lone Star State.
A State Representative, who will go unnamed, recently distributed a list of points that purport to show how great things are. The text of this list just came into my possession.
It is incredibly important that our citizens understand the facts. Most knowledgeable observers around the country realize the truth about Texas. We made substantial gains in the 1990s and 2000s. We’ve stagnated since. Our citizens must see the truth, ask why we’ve slipped, and demand action to restore us to the right path. So, in the interest of getting the facts right, here are the list’s claims, and here are rebuttals.
I. A. HERE’S A CLAIM:
Texas Leads U.S. in NAEP Eighth-Grade Mathematics Gains Among Mega-States. The average mathematics score for Texas eighth graders was 32 points higher in 2011 than in 1990. This increase was larger than in all other Mega-States. African-American eighth-graders in Texas scored 42 points higher in 2011 than in 1990.
Based on these data, and through a translation of these data to results on international tests, Texas also compares favorably to other nations.
B. HERE ARE THE FACTS
That’s right, BUT WHAT DID HE FORGET TO TELL YOU?
We did indeed make great gains from the early 1990s until 2011, some of the best in the nation. We were the envy of other states, and we compared favorably in 8th grade math everywhere.
This happened because we implemented one of the best accountability systems in the nation over those years.
But, in the late 2000s, the education bureaucrats began a campaign to weaken it, as evidenced first by the watered-down rating systems described below. In the early 2010s, they eviscerated it through lower standards and further weakening in accountability.
Is it any wonder that the creators of this list, who supported that evisceration, only display data from 2011? Look very closely at the period from 2011-2017, which shows the worst such trajectory in the land.
Here’s a picture over the whole period of 8th grade performance on the NAEP, in Texas, by racial groups:
II. A. HERE’S A CLAIM:
Nearly every school district in Texas (98%) earned the highest rating for fiscal responsibility on the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas. Nearly every district (95.8%) and nearly every school achieved the state’s “met standards” rating in the education accountability system in 2016.
B. HERE ARE THE FACTS:
Think about that for a moment. It strains the credulity of any reasonable observer to be told that everyone meets any real standard, and, even more, at the highest level.
What legitimate rating system shows everyone performing at the top? None. This makes Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average,” appear to be using a rigorous standard!
Essentially, education bureaucrats have developed and installed a “rating system” that is NOT designed to rate results objectively but rather to make them look great. So, is it any surprise that they “look great?”
It was not always this way. In fact, when Texas’ achievement was improving (as opposed to now), the measurement system was more honest. Texas graded its schools generously, but fairly accurately. There was far greater variation in ratings in past years. Here are ratings in 2004.
If you want truly objective, useful ratings of Texas schools, look at the current Commissioner’s new system, or here, or here.
As to efficiency, if you’re looking for the elements of a solid analysis of Texas districts, examine this testimony from the Education Resource Group here.
III. A. HERE’S A CLAIM:
The list suggests that Texas is doing well with regard to college readiness and offers the following points: a) Texas has more early college high school campuses and more students participating in early college high school programs than elsewhere in the nation, and b) high school students posted strong passing rates for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR®) end-of-course exams in Biology, Algebra I and U.S. History. Passing rates include 93% for Biology, 92% for US History, and 86% for Algebra.
B. HERE ARE THE FACTS:
As to whether Texas students are more graduation-ready, there are no data to support that assertion.
1. In fact, the THECB saw a decline in readiness and a flattening out in completion in recent years. As to college readiness statewide, the percent fell from 68% in 2011 to 58% in 2015. Look here.
SAT and ACT scores have gone nowhere positive in recent years. There are abundant data that show that our graduates are not any more prepared for college or career, and perhaps less so. Look here, here, here, here, and here.
2. As to bragging about the growing number of early college high schools, that’s all well and good. But the issue really is quality, not quantity. Here's the Texas Higher Education Commissioner expressing serious concern and real alarm about their quality generally.
3. As to the percentage of students “passing” end-of-course exams, the list ignores three crucial points.
First, the passing standard was set much lower than the levels teachers deemed necessary to constitute college/career readiness. This occurred mostly for the political reason that the bar had to be set at levels where the vast majority of students could pass. So, yes, they’ve jumped the low bar.
Second, in fact, the high percentage claimed “passing” is actually the percent “approaching” standard, NOT meeting standard. This is yet one more case of the author using false, inflated standards to claim success.
Third, Texas no longer has exams at junior and senior grades that show college/career readiness. This is so because the legislature eliminated all such tests several years ago. We have no statewide measures of achievement in the final high school years, either for accountability or even merely knowing students’ postsecondary readiness.
IV. A. HERE’S A CLAIM:
The list touts data showing that the national graduation rate has risen considerably over the past two decades, and that Texas’ rate has risen to even higher levels.
B. HERE ARE THE FACTS:
While it is true that official graduation rates have risen and the numbers do reflect some improvement, claims such as those in the list are exaggerated and dubious.
This is so because, according to most knowledgeable observers, there are serious questions about the legitimacy of graduation rate numbers, suggesting that a large share of the reported gains are overstated, if not, actually bogus. A sampling of the many articles expressing why are:
here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
V. A. HERE’S A CLAIM:
When comparing students in similar socio-economic groups, U.S. students rank first in the world in reading, as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)…When comparing U.S. schools with less than 10% poverty to those countries with less than 10% poverty, U.S. ranks No. 1.
B. HERE ARE THE FACTS:
Of all the doozies in the list, the best comes last!
As to the PISA claims, we must begin with the fact that the US has fallen badly in recent years on PISA, especially in math. Here's an account of the fall.
Further, as to reading, the US dropped from 504 in 2000 to 497 in 2015. One can only suspect that the author is using older data from a time when we were doing better, probably in 2012.
BUT, MOST IMPORTANT, the author is pulling a serious sleight of hand.
First, we’re nowhere near #1. The US is now average and dropping.
The author is saying IF we compared our schools with less than 10% poverty (very few and the most elite) to countries with less than 10% poverty (very few), then, we’d be #1.
This is a sad, deceptive trick. The US is about average in every way one can judge. Our top performers are average. Our weaker, low-income students are average in their group. We’re not only below the well-to-do nations; we’re also below Portugal, Poland, Slovenia, and Estonia.
About the only result in the PISA data on reading that’s positive is that the US made progress in reducing the equity gap. But for the author to spotlight that, he’d have to give credit to NCLB and other accountability measures, and I doubt he’d want to do that.