DMN beats Chron on important education news

The Dallas Morning News has two stories of interest, relating to public schools. The first questions the dramatic improvements some traditionally low-rated schools have made in TAKS testing:

A Dallas Morning News data analysis has uncovered strong evidence of organized, educator-led cheating on the TAKS test in dozens of Texas schools and suspicious scores in hundreds more.


The News' findings have led to cheating inquiries in three Texas school districts, including the state's two largest, Dallas and Houston. One of the schools under investigation is a National Blue Ribbon School that a year ago was touted by federal officials as an example of top academic achievement.


Take Sanderson Elementary, a school in a poor Houston area.

In 2003, after years of mediocre performance, it reached what has traditionally been the pinnacle for American schools: The U.S. Department of Education named Sanderson a Blue Ribbon School because of rapid improvement in its test scores.

But the News' analysis raises questions about the validity of Sanderson's TAKS performance, particularly in fifth-grade math.

Sanderson's fourth-graders scored extremely poorly on the math TAKS test. Their average scale score was so low that it ranked Sanderson in the bottom 2 percent of the state: No. 3,173 out of 3,227 schools.

That's roughly what might be expected from a school where 98 percent of the student body is poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunches. Hundreds of research studies have found that student poverty is the single most important factor in student academic achievement.

But Sanderson's fifth-graders had astonishing success on the math test. They had the highest scale scores of any school in Texas, beating every magnet school, every wealthy suburban school and every high-performing school in the state.

Sanderson didn't just finish No. 1. No other school in the state was even close. In scale-score points, the distance between Sanderson and the No. 2 school was as large as the gap between No. 2 and No. 116. More than 90 percent of Sanderson's fifth-graders got perfect or near-perfect scores.

Uh oh.

It sure would be nice to see this kind of reporting out of the Chronicle.

UPDATE 1: The Chronicle now has an AP story up, on the probe into TAKS cheating.

UPDATE 2: The Chronicle did that "poof" thing again, where it replaces a wire story with a Chronicle-authored story. The Chronicle doesn't believe both stories can coexist, apparently, so poof! No more AP story. That "poof" thing drives blogHOUSTON crazy. Anyway, the link in UPDATE 1 now goes to the Chronicle-authored story, and we'll use the term "Chronicle-authored" loosely, since much of the information is from the AP story, with a few quotes and a bit of new information thrown in. Here's the AP story the Chronicle used earlier, from USA Today. The Chronicle is truly a piece of work.

The second story from the Dallas Morning News is about the Public Education Grant program in Texas. Under this program, students who are in low-rated schools can apply for a transfer to a better performing school, but students must supply their own transportation and if the transfer is out-of-district, there is no guarantee the student will be accepted. For those reasons, some say participation in the transfer program is low:

Republican leaders in the Legislature may use that fact to argue that students need vouchers that can be used at private schools to truly be free of low-performing public schools. Voucher backers could use the list of 420 low-rated schools to choose sites for a test program.


Supporters of school vouchers have long cited the low participation in the Public Education Grant program as one reason why Texas needs to expand school choice options to private schools.

They have urged the Legislature to allow students at failing schools to transfer to any public or private school using state vouchers to pay tuition but have had no success. Next year, though, voucher supporters may have their best chance, with social conservative activists and Republican leaders making vouchers a high priority.

School boards, PTAs and teacher groups have vigorously opposed vouchers, contending it would drain millions of dollars from public schools.

Yes, with the usual groups it's all about dollar signs, instead of student-learning. The story also provides a link to the list of transfer-eligible schools.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 12/19/04 09:45 AM | Print |

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