There is no state in the nation that had a better upward trajectory in academic achievement growth on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) from 1993 to 2009 than Texas.
This growth caused the Rand Corporation to label Texas and North Carolina as the top states in academic growth in the early 2000s. Other respected, objective observers similarly placed Texas near or at the top throughout the decade.
When Texas acted later in the 2000s to be among the top states in college and career readiness, others took notice of that major step forward as well. The Southern Region Education Board put a unique spotlight on the Texas story as a model for the region.
But, even more important, the state began to meet its higher education "closing the gaps" goals by getting to ever-higher levels of postsecondary completion for all its students.
The sad part of the story begins with the harsh fact that NAEP scores started stagnating in 2009 and have been basically flat since.
The state agency had weakened the accountability system by making its features incomprehensible, inflating school ratings so that two thirds of the schools got the highest ratings, and abandoning the work of effective assistance to schools in need of improvement. So, predictably and unhappily, improvement came to a halt.
When the agency implemented college and career policies ineptly, a reaction set in. And, instead of fixing the policies, the legislature eviscerated them in 2013.
These backward steps have been documented by the author in other papers. Now we know that progress on higher education completion goals has also begun to stagnate.
Yet, this sad story gets sadder still.
In the current session of the legislature, many members are seeking to backtrack even further. The previous legislature had cut the number of state tests a student needed to pass to graduate from 15 to 5. These tests covered essentially freshman and sophomore material; the passing standard was set at a level far below where teachers had recommended; and students were given five tries to pass.
Yet, though 90% of Texas high school students have jumped the low bar, some legislators now want to let all students graduate irrespective of whether they fail these exams.
An analysis of the English II exam will be published separately. But, suffice to say, it's hard to see how a student who fails it five times at the low passing level can find much success after high school. Reading and understanding passages of text at a basic level is a must for most graduates. Writing with minimal competency is a must as well.
Saddest of all, this retreat is but one of many. Others will be the subject of future articles.
Our elected leaders have put our beloved state of Texas on a march to mediocrity.