The latest federal ratings for Texas schools came out Wednesday, and the results sure don’t look good. More than 70 percent of the school districts in Texas, and almost half the individual school campuses, couldn’t make the federal government’s grade this year.
It’s a tune we’ve gotten used to hearing.
Each time, it’s more dire headlines and hand-wringing about about the plight of Texas’ schools. The Laredo Morning Times summed up the gloom and doom this time around, with a story titled simply “Schools’ Failure.” (The rest of the story’s behind a paywall, so it’s a good thing the headline says it all.)
Free-marketeers smell blood, using the news as just more evidence that our public school system is a mess—and that charters and vouchers are the only way out.
But there’s a problem with reporting the latest federal ratings as news, and not the inevitable result of our getting closer to 2014. That’s the year by which, under No Child Left Behind, every school in the country must accomplish a handful of miracles at once: get every student to take the state tests, earn a passing score in both reading and math, and then graduate from high school. The closer we get to that supremely unrealistic target, the less seriously we can take these “failures” on the federal report card.
At this point, the scores have far more to do with policy decisions made a decade ago than what students did on a test last year. Each state got to plan out its annually rising targets on the way to that perfect 100 and, like most states, Texas saved its most dramatic gains for the last few years before 2014.
You can see how it played out in the chart below: Before 2008, the “passing” bar for Texas schools rose gradually and most schools made the cut. After that, though, the required passing rate for math and reading shot up on a much steeper trajectory toward 100 percent. At first, more schools still hit those targets, but only because the state was using something called the “Texas Projection Measure” to inflate their scores. The state did away with that little sleight of hand last year, and since then the number of “passing” schools has dropped. Fast.