Thursday, July 30, 2009

New measure of accountability success causes stir Coalition of business, civil rights groups calls for tran

New measure of accountability success causes stir
Coalition of business, civil rights groups calls for transparency in school accountability.
By Kate Alexander

Thursday, July 30, 2009
Many Texas public schools are expected to show big gains when accountability ratings are released Friday, but a disparate group of critics says the improvements could be illusory.

For the first time, schools will be able to count as passing students who fail any section of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills but are on track to pass in the future.

Legislative news inside the Virtual Capitol

The new measure, which has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education, is seen as a way to gauge how well schools are helping low-performing students catch up to their classmates. The Texas Education Agency uses a mathematical model based on a student's test score and the school's average scores to determine if the student is projected to pass.

Schools were being punished for having students arrive at their doors ill-prepared, said Julian Vasquez Heilig, a University of Texas education professor. So this measure will provide a truer picture of how effectively a school moves students forward, even if they miss the passing standard, Vasquez Heilig said.

But early indications are that the new measure will also help a large number of schools climb up the four-tiered accountability ratings scale and claim success.

In the Dallas school district, for instance, one-third of the campuses will benefit from the new measure, according to newspaper reports. The Austin district has not released its preliminary test results.

"You're going to have a lot of school districts and a lot of campuses that are going to be given substantial upgrades, but their actual performance won't have changed," said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, a trade group for Texas employers that has pushed schools to better prepare students for the workplace.

Frances Deviney of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an advocacy group for low-income Texans, said the concern is that "masking the true number of kids still struggling to meet the state's academic standards" will undermine the public and political support for programs that help those students.

The business group has joined with the center and some other "nontraditional friends," as Hammond put it, to highlight the need for transparency in school accountability reporting and strengthening standards. Those two organizations have rarely seen eye to eye on key tax and spending issues that affect education.

Other members of the coalition, which will hold a news conference today to air its concerns, include the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the League of United Latin American Citizens. They joined forces with the business association in 2007 to speak out on immigration issues.

Angel Abitua, the local LULAC district director, said his organization has jumped into this issue because the dropout rate is "horrendous" for Hispanic students and the state needs to be forthright about that problem for it to be addressed. Hispanic students in Texas drop out of school at three times the rate of their white peers, according to the latest state figures.

"We don't want it to be hidden from sight for political expediency," Abitua said.; 445-3618

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