The Texas Education Agency is going to release its findings on the academic performance of Texas public schools today, and the labels that they assign to each school could greatly influence many districts. The ratings given to each school affect the students, the faculty, the funding, and even the property value of the area around them. They have raised the standards for these tests from the previous one, which is putting pressure on many schools to start reforms. This topic is very timely, especially considering they will release the results only hours after this article is written. Since this is about Texas education, it could not be more appropriate. The issues that created and surround this topic raise a variety of social problems, with just as many opinions on how they may be resolved.
The most notable concern with these results is how the rating given to each school will affect the school itself. Some complain that the test is unfairly biased, and that it, in turn, will place unfair bias upon certain schools. They see the social inequality inherent in this system as its greatest flaw. Besides this concern, students must deal with increasingly heightened standards and the potential for a handful of students to bring an entire school down. Despite how these ratings affect the individual, we must consider the larger picture of how it affects the educational quality around the state. This could be a genuine attempt at some much-needed improvement in the state educational system, or it could be a political ploy with very little true political backing.
The TEA will release the ratings on their web site and they will discuss the details at a news conference all at 1p.m. today, August 1, 2005 (3). The school accountability system was created by the TEA eleven years ago and restructured in 2003 (1). The results of the ratings will be on this web site: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/ (6). The ratings entail financial punishments and incentives based on the school’s performance (2). This is the first of two pieces of information to be released by the TEA before the next school year, the latter of which they will release on August 11 (4).
There are four ratings a school or district can receive: the lowest is “academically unacceptable,” which means they scored below the required criteria; next is “academically acceptable,” which means that 25% passed science, 35% passed math and 50% passed language arts and social studies, 75% completion rate of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, 50% of State Developed Alternative Assessment II students met committee expectations, and the school had a 2% or less dropout rate; third is “recognized,” which means that 70% of students had to pass each TAKS tests and/or meet committee expectations on the SDAA II, an 85% completion rate, and a 0.7% or less dropout rate; and finally there is the “exemplary” status, which means that the school had 90% of students pass each TAKS test and/or met committee expectations on the SDAA II, 95% complete their grade or graduate, and only 0.2% or fewer drop out (5).
The primary source of information to base these ratings on is the TAKS test, which is a standardized testing system. Standardized testing has certain recognized flaws that could be a detriment to certain sections of the community. With its focus on percentages, it puts smaller schools at a disadvantage if a few of their students are not performing well. And with the ethnic bias in standardized testing, it unfairly affects minority students.
One scenario that is likely to play out is one where a predominantly white and wealthy district earns a top rating but a low-income district earns a lower rating. This could occur because the wealthier former district is smaller. Though the latter district did better overall, they remain at a lower tier, with all the punishments that go along with that rating (6). The nature of the award/punishment system also encourages self-fulfilled prophecies. A school system that is at a disadvantage to begin with gets hit with sanctions because it fell just below the level of academic acceptability.
In many ways, the TAKS test and the TEA school accountability system is the official response to this issue. The government is trying to raise academic standards and apply them fairly to the students of Texas. Whether they are successful or not is something that will be up for debate. However, this is essentially how the politicians are handling the issue. Still, an official response to this issue “that is, the unfair nature of the current testing system” should be forthcoming.
The public reaction to the current system generally depends on how your school or district fares in the rating system. While those who are set to benefit from it seem less concerned with the problems with the system (4), those who suffer from it are apt to point out its flaws (2). This does not mean these criticisms are unfounded, however. It is easy to see how the system could treat some schools unfairly. This mentality of reinforcing the idea that a school is defunct, rather than trying to improve it, shows a tendency to snuff out the “bad” schools so that the “good” ones can thrive.
Economically, this could hurt our nation because, over time, we are diverting attention away from our most valuable resource: people. The better educated a society is, the better the general quality of life is for all members of the society. If this trend of putting the disadvantaged at a greater disadvantage continues forever, it places serious strains on various aspects of our lives. A poorly-managed educational system could lead to greater tension between ethnic groups, an increased gap between the educated and uneducated, and more clearly-defined social classes.
The media has been relatively objective on this issue, though it is interesting to read each perspective from across the state. There are a few times when the wording of an article is favorable or unfavorable of the system, and one is tempted to tie their general attitude to the performance of the local school system. The El Paso Times, for example, was one of only two sources I found that mentioned the racial problems inherent in the TAKS testing system (2).
Few of these sources were written from the same perspective, as most of them were from random places around the state. Each article puts the focus of today’s ratings for the perspective of the local schools. It seemed that no matter where in the state the source came from, they were concerned with the toughened standards, the somewhat biased nature of the testing system, and what the rating their school receives will mean to the area.
Depending on how the ratings fall, it could shape the very future of many school systems. Schools that are lacking may find themselves in a tougher environment, or shut down altogether. Exemplary schools may find their status lowered to “recognized,” causing some families to find other schools. Still yet are those school which may receive a considerable boost from a raise in rating, attracting the same students that abandoned their once-exemplary schools.
It seems that with the state’s school evaluation systems can be more effectively managed proper attention, cooperation, and study. There should be a way to assess and address the needs of schools that are in need of improvement without the threat of removing them completely. Our educational system on the whole is in need of improvement, and the best way to solve that is from the “bottom” and work our way up.
List of Works Consulted
1. The Galveston County Daily News. Texas Education Agency to release new ratings. http://galvestondailynews.com/
2. El Paso Times Local news. Districts expect lower ratings released today. http://borderlandnews.com/
3. The Longview News-Journal. Schools to get ratings today. http://news-journal.com/
4. The Waco Tribune-Herald. Public school ratings to be released today. http://wacotrib.com/
5. Star-Telegram. Schools prepare to hear new rank. http://dfw.com/
6. Star-Telegram. School test rankings only part of formula, some say. http://dfw.com/