Report Derides Education in Texas

Tuesday, October 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Texas schoolchildren may be soaring on their high-stakes, statewide test, but their progress in national testing is about the same as students in other states, a new report says.

Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, has long touted the gains in reading and math scores on the mandatory statewide test, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.

In their issue paper Tuesday, researchers at Rand, a California-based think tank, suggest those scores may be misleading.

The report immediately drew heat for its narrow focus on the state of Texas, its seeming contradiction with an earlier Rand study praising the state's academic achievements, and its release just two weeks before a tight election between Vice President Al Gore and Bush, the governor of Texas since 1995. Gore was attacking Bush's Texas record on Tuesday.

``Rand is a very reputable, nonpartisan organization, but the timing certainly raises questions,'' said Nina Shokraii Rees, an education policy analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Lead author Stephen P. Klein and his team could not immediately be reached for comment.

The report compares scores from the Texas test with Texas' performance on the National Assessment of Academic Progress, a national sampling test used voluntarily by 44 states.

The Rand study looked at how fourth- and eighth-graders scored in reading and math from 1994 to 1998. It found that Texas children made gains on both tests — but those gains were much smaller on the national test. For instance, Texas fourth-graders improved in reading from 1994 to 1998 at about the same rate as other children nationwide, but the state tests showed far greater gains in reading.

``We do not know the source of these differences,'' wrote the authors, but added a ``reasonable explanation'' is that ``many schools are devoting a great deal of class time to highly specific TAAS preparation.''

The Texas tests are used to decide whether children move to the next grade or graduate — and to reward or punish their schools, mostly through funding.

The report said the starkest differences between Texas students' performance on the state test and the national test were among the race gaps between white and minority children. On the national test, the race gap was large and increased slightly. The Texas test showed the gap to be much smaller, decreasing slightly.

The new Rand paper seemed likely to fuel a yearlong battle of education reports by the presidential candidates.

Earlier this year, test results showed a widening gap nationally in the performance of white and black elementary school students on reading, math and science — leading Bush to declare an ``education recession.'' He's also called gains on the Texas test ``the Texas miracle.''

The Bush camp also seized on a Rand study this summer of national scores from 1990-1996, which concluded Texas schoolchildren — regardless of race or parents' income — are likely to do better than counterparts in other states.

David Grissmer, the lead researcher on that study, said the new paper was narrower because it focused on one state over a shorter time period.

``There needs to be more research,'' he said. ``These two tests have different designs.''

Because each state designs its own tests, comparing one to another using state test scores is impossible. Many educators agree the national sample remains the best national measure of how elementary, middle school and high school students have learned the core subjects of reading math and science.

The Texas test is given annually to all children in certain grades to measure what they learned in given courses of study. The national program tests a sample of children from three grades, is given about every two years and looks for a broader base of knowledge.

Although many states use NAEP as a barometer, it doesn't diminish progress on a state's own exam, said Larry Feinberg, a spokesman for the national panel that oversees the national testing. ``It's an independent measure,'' he said.


On the Net: Rand:

The National Assessment of Academic Progress: