7/30/2010 4:40 PM
Today’s accountability ratings didn’t come from Lake Wobegon, they came from the Texas Education Agency. But they still ranked a substantial majority of campuses and districts above average (officially: exemplary or recognized).
Commissioner of Education Robert Scott unveiled state accountability ratings at a press conference at Texas Education Agency headquarters today. According to the new ratings, 239 Texas School Districts are exemplary and 597 are recognized, while only 298 received an academically acceptable rating and 30 were ranked unacceptable (formerly called low performing).
Of the 239 exemplary, a mere 72 received the rating without resorting to use of estimated future test scores predicted by the Texas Projection measure (TPM). (See last week's issue for a profile of the TPM and low passing standards on this year's tests
). And of the 597 recognized districts, a mere 77 received the rating without the projection measure. The projection measure has come under fire from lawmakers who noted that a student can get no questions right and still be projected to pass in the future under the measure.
“Many schools and districts earned one of the top ratings by meeting the absolute rating criteria and did not use a progress measure or an exception. That is because the TAKS passing rates and completion rates went up across the state in 2010, while dropout rates for grades 7-12 declined compared to the previous year. We saw real progress in our schools this year,” Commissioner of Education Robert Scott said. “However, a number of schools and districts did use progress measures or exceptions to move up one rating category, which is allowable under the state accountability system. We understand that some people have concerns with these measures, particularly with the Texas Projection Measure.”
Scott said that if legislators want to amend the law that created the Texas Projection Measure, he’s open to that debate. He also said TEA is considering suspending the measure or allowing it only for school districts that opt in.
In spite of that concession, Scott spent a lot of time defending the TPM. He brought in seven administrators from seven different Texas school districts to defend the measure. Scott’s main defense of TPM is that it accurately predicted which students would pass the test in subsequent years. Specifically, he produced statistics showing that more than 85 percent of students who failed in 2009 but were predicted to pass by TPM did so. He also said TEA found 12 students who received a raw score of zero but were predicted to pass by TPM. Scott said 11 of them did so.
Scott may have convinced some school superintendents – who like having “exemplary” or “recognized” ratings when seeking to pass bond issues or higher tax rates, but he hasn’t convinced Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White, who – when asked at an unrelated news conference -- referred reporters to testimony (mentioned in last week’s LSR) at a June 29 House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. "It was not a measure of improvement ... I could go into some arcane statistical points. But think about it this way: if you want to see improvement, why don't you measure improvement? Doesn't that make sense? Like the same individual from one year to the next year -- measure that if you want to show improvement."
Scott told reporters the TEA considered adopting an improvement measure but did not do so because TPM more accurately predicts future test scores.
In addition to the questions about TPM, Scott was asked about cut scores and the fact that it’s possible to receive a “passing” mark on some state standardized exams while getting more questions wrong than right. Scott defended the low percentage of correct answers required to pass this year’s tests. (For eighth grade social studies, for example, passing only requires 44 percent correct.) “As I mentioned earlier, there are more easy items and more difficult items on the test and what you do is you make a comparison from last year’s test to this year’s test, because you don’t this year’s fourth-grade class that comes in to get a more or less difficult test than the year before,” Scott said. “So you look at your test and find it’s more difficult, you might lower that cut score to make all things equal for those two fourth grade classes back to back. Yes, we do that statistical equating to prevent the test from harming or causing waves in the rigor of an assessment.”
LSR asked Scott whether the low passing standards on the test made it possible for students to be predicted to pass it even though they did not get a single question correct. Scott referred LSR to statistics that showed that students, in fact, largely did pass when predicted to do so. The Texas Performance Measure was created by Pearson Education under contract from the Texas Education Agency.
After the press conference, the Texas Education Agency’s Criss Cloudt, associate commissioner for assessment, accountability, and data quality , and deputy association commissioner Gloria Zyskowski told LSR that with the new testing program (which includes end-of-course exams for high school students), the commissioner will be required to set the cut score based on studies of the level of proficiency required for college readiness.
Later in the day, White issued an official statement on the accountability ratings: "We can all cheer school improvement, but the governor should be looking for real improvement, not ways to keep up politically convenient appearances. Only after public outcry would Perry give Texans actual results, results without statistical manipulation and inflation. Texas students, parents and educators deserve better," White said.