• IDRA Newsletter • September 2001

The Texas Education Agency school accountability ratings released on August 16, 2001, indicated rising scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). To the extent that gains have been made, students are reaping the benefits of Texas’ school reforms over the last three decades. These reforms have included equalized school funding, reduced class sizes, effective bilingual education programs, curriculum alignment, and strengthened early childhood education. “Many districts are showing that equitable distribution of resources can improve student outcomes,” stated Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA executive director.

However, Texas is failing too many of its children. Forty-two percent of Texas students are in districts that are rated less than “recognized” on the TAAS. Also, TAAS gains are not consistently reflected in the scores on other measures such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP data, released in August, indicate that 40 percent of Black fourth-graders in Texas and 32 percent of Hispanic fourth-graders failed to demonstrate even partial mastery of math skills, compared to 11 percent of White fourth-graders. At the eighth-grade level, 60 percent of Black children and 41 percent of Hispanic children lack basic math skills. This compares to 17 percent of White eighth-graders.

An initial review of the latest TAAS data indicates that most of Texas’ large urban districts are not performing well. Yet, a significant portion of students, particularly racial and ethnic minority students, are in these districts. IDRA is concerned that a new gap may be developing between large urban districts and small rural and suburban districts.

Despite the improved dropout rate reported by TEA yesterday, IDRA’s annual attrition study shows no change in the attrition rate: 40 percent of students were lost from public school enrollment between 1997-98 and 2000-01. The same was true last year. A proxy for the number and rate of students who drop out of high school, attrition data in Texas have ranged from a low of 40 percent in 1995-96, 1999-00, and 2000-01 to a high of 43 percent in 1996-97. That is, each year since 1995-96 two of every five students from a freshman class have left school prior to their graduation.

Further, TEA’s estimate of 23,457 dropouts does not include students who dropped out of school to get a GED, students who were denied a diploma because they did not pass the exit-level TAAS, students who have been expelled or incarcerated, and students who claim to have transferred to other schools but for whom there is no verification of transfer. When these students are included in the dropout count, the number goes up to more than 150,000 dropouts.

Commissioner Jim Nelson stated that “The dropout rate, no matter how it is measured, remains too high.” IDRA agrees. IDRA research shows that between 1985-86 and 2000-01 about 1.6 million secondary school students have been lost from public school enrollment in the state. On the average, nearly 115,000 students do not graduate each year costing the state in excess of $441 billion between 1985-86 and 2000-01.

Dr. Robledo Montecel commented: “We have reason to celebrate improvements and hard work over the last 30 years. But, we have no reason to believe that all children in the state of Texas get a quality education or equal opportunity. Until that happens, Texas cannot claim to be exemplary or even recognized. Our children, all of them, deserve better.”

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2001, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2001 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]