Study: Texas sets bar low for students on TAKS
Scores needed to pass state achievement test lower than many other states.
By Molly Bloom
AMERICAN STATESMAN STAFF
Thursday, February 19, 2009
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was meant to instill accountability in schools, to ensure that students — no matter what their race, ethnicity or family income level — "achieve proficiency" in reading and math by 2014.
But by leaving it up to each state to define proficiency, the law gives the false impression of creating a national accountability system, according to a report being released today.
Texas' implementation of the federal school accountability system is one of the most lenient in the country, report researchers from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, and the Kingsbury Center at the Northwest Evaluation Association, an Oregon research center.
The results, from an analysis of test scores and other information from 18 elementary schools nationwide, are similar to those reported in other studies. Research by the National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2003, Mississippi was the only state with an easier fourth-grade reading standard than Texas, assuming all states test the same skills.
If schools that receive certain federal funds have students in third grade and up who fail to achieve proficiency in reading and math by 2014 or make progress toward meeting that goal, they can be subject to sanctions that include having to pay to have students tutored or transferred to other schools.
States send the U.S. Department of Education their own plans to reach that 2014 goal, establish their own interim targets, create their own tests and determine how many questions students must get right to pass. States make their own rules about how many students in particular groups a school has to have for the school be held accountable for the group's test scores.
That means that a school given a stamp of approval under the federal system in one state could be deemed a failure in another.
In Texas, the federal goals are based on passing rates on the reading and math sections of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, as well as graduation, attendance and test participation rates. The federal system is separate from Texas' system that rates schools as unacceptable, acceptable, recognized or exemplary.
Today's report also found that Texas requires the number of students in racial, ethnic, linguistic and economic groups to be relatively large in order for a school to be held accountable for test scores in those groups. Schools are held accountable for a group's performance only if those students number more than 200, or number at least 50 and make up at least 10 percent of a campus's enrollment.
The Fordham and Kingsbury researchers wrote that Texas' TAKS passing score is relatively low compared to other states'. The researchers did not evaluate a new policy under which Texas schools can count students who are projected to pass the TAKS in subsequent years as having passed in the current year for federal accountability purposes.
Requiring students to answer more questions correctly could help improve academic achievement, but only if Texas also improves teacher preparation, professional development and curricula, University of Texas education researcher Ed Fuller said.
"Most people would probably agree that our proficiency standards are too low," Fuller said. "But if you just set standards high and don't do anything else ... you'll have a disaster on your hands."
Passing scores are only one part of the picture, said study researcher John Cronin.
"Just fiddling with one of the factors in the situation doesn't solve the problem," he said. "You have to deal with the whole system."