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Report gives troubling news

The latest results from the Nation’s Report Card are in, and Texas’ scores on the respected National Assessment of Educational Progress exams are troubling.

NAEP math and reading tests are given every two years to fourth- and eighth-graders across the nation. The main takeaway for Texas is that math and reading trend lines are down or flat for African-American and Hispanic students in both grades. They also are down for Anglo students in some areas.

Consider the math results for Texas’ white, black and Latino eighth-graders. From 1992 through 2011, their scores were on a fairly steady path upward. Not always great, but certainly moving ahead. Not so in 2013. Scores for all three groups declined.

Next, consider the reading scores for Texas’ Hispanic eighth-graders. This is the heartbreaker. From 1998 to 2011, our Hispanic eighth-graders outpaced their Latino peers nationally, sometimes by almost one full grade.

This year, though, our eighth-grade Latinos tied with their peers. They have lost their lead in reading and showed only a minor gain from the 2011 test.

Here’s one more example: Math scores for fourth-grade Anglos, Latinos and African-Americans in Texas rose from 1992 to 2005. Since then, each group has been flat. More troubling, scores for black fourth-graders fell in 2013. That was their first decline since 1992.

There is no single reason for these reversals, but here’s one factor: Texas scores have started declining as the state has softened portions of how it measures schools and students.

Each year, the state gives its own achievement exam. The state also sets a cut-score, which determines how many students will pass. Over time, the state has set it low enough that a good number of students pass.

In contrast, Texas students fall short on the NAEP measurement. They may not be learning at grade level, even though their state scores look acceptable.

What should Texas do?

Texas Education Agency officials and state legislators would be smart to look at what’s going on in the three places that did well on the 2013 NAEP tests: Tennessee, the District of Columbia and Indiana. Their leaders have remained steady in pursuing school reforms.

For example, each has required teacher evaluations to include data about student performance, which helps principals know where a teacher needs to improve his or her skills. That can lead to greater student achievement.

Texas is one of only 10 states to not require that teacher evaluations include classroom data. The 2015 Legislature should make this a priority. Districts like Dallas may be trying to include such information, but not all are.

Texas needs to reverse the troubling trends revealed on the Nation’s Report Card. Improving teacher evaluations is a good place for legislators to start.

The Dallas Morning News