Last week, the Rand Corp. released a report on Texas education and test scores. Rand boasted that the report "raises 'serious questions' about the validity of" academic gains touted by Texas Gov. George W. Bush -- a.k.a. "the Texas miracle." Because the Santa Monica think-tank released the report two weeks before the election, Rand President James Thomson issued a statement denying any partisan motive behind the report.
Rand spokesman Jess Cook explained that Rand was in a no-win situation: Hold off the report until after the election and Bush critics would cry cover-up.
Steve Klein, the researcher who headed the effort, explained yesterday that after he had made some negative comments on the so-called Texas miracle to California reporters, folks at Rand insisted that he back up his comments with reviewed research.
Voila, a report that found that national test scores show that Texas schools have not narrowed the gap between minority and white students, as Team Bush has claimed. The report faulted the state's exam, Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), for registering incredible gains in minority student performance, even as Texas scores for the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test showed less improvement, as well as a widening gap between white and minority students.
Readers should understand four things about the report:
-- African American and Latino students in Texas score higher than their counterparts nationally. The 1996 NAEP math test ranked black students in Texas first in the nation and Hispanic students fifth.
In July, Rand released a more comprehensive report that lauded the progress of Texas students, particularly minorities. The report also praised North Carolina and Texas as belonging to a group of states which "boasts gains about twice as great as the national average."
Klein agrees that minority students fare better in Texas. He noted that report tables indicate that African Americans and Hispanics in Texas score higher than the national average, and added, "That's not something that we're trying to hide."
-- The TAAS test is "too easy for some students," as the Klein report suggests. The New York Times yesterday featured 10th- grade math questions, including one about how many runs a baseball team should score in 200 games if it keeps up its average of 50 runs per 40 games. Worse: the question was multiple choice.
This is why Texas has been developing a tougher TAAS test. It will hit classrooms in 2003, and none too soon.
-- One way to tighten the gap between minority students and whites is for whites not to improve. If white students had improved less on the NAEP reading test in Texas, they could have helped narrow the gaps between black and white students and Latino and white students. What a hollow victory that would be.
"The point is that (test scores of) white students are going up and black and Hispanic students are going up," Texas education adviser Doug Carnine explained.
-- TAAS might be picking up something NAEP doesn't register. Critics contend that teachers spend too much time teaching to the test -- and that may be true. (It should be noted, however, that Texas changes the TAAS questions every year, unlike many states, including California.) It's also true that the number of students passing all sections of the test rose from 58 percent in 1995 to 80 percent this year.
"The real question is," said Bush education adviser Bill Evers of the Hoover Institution, "do we have adequate evidence that Texas is improving overall and that black and Hispanic kids are sharing in that improvement and that it is doing better along with North Carolina than other states in these sorts of improvements? Yes, we do."