Texas Test Patterns
While Lawsuit Says High School Exit Exam Discriminates, Report Shows Achievement Gap Is Closing in Two School Districts
AUSTIN, Texas — The outcome of a lawsuit over an exit-level high school examination in Texas could have ramifications for other states that require students to pass a statewide test to receive a diploma. The lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, alleges that the state-required exam discriminates against Hispanic and African American students, who disproportionately fail the test. The civil rights group is asking a federal judge to prevent the test from being used as a criterion for high school graduation.Testimony in the lawsuit, which began earlier this month, should conclude in a few weeks.And in the midst of the hearing deliberations, a report by the Council of Great City Schools, or CGCS, indicated that Houston and Fort Worth have made significant strides in closing the achievement gap between Whites and minorities.The lawsuit, which is receiving a hearing in a federal court in San Antonio, also is receiving national attention in part because of GOP presidential front runner George W. Bush. The Texas governor boasts about improving test scores among public school students through ending “social promotion” and demanding “accountability” from educators.“We don’t have a problem with assessment and testing of students,” says MALDEF policy analyst Joe Sanchez. “We want more accountability, but we don’t believe [the test] is a way to do that.”MALDEF has said that 20 percent of minorities ultimately fail the test and aren’t able to get their diplomas, compared with 10 percent of non-Hispanic White students. The test also is connected to an increase in the minority dropout rate, the group argues.But officials at the Texas Education Agency cite improving minority test scores in recent years. The scores “are a sign that everything the state is doing is moving us in the right direction,” says Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the agency.Last spring, a record number of high school sophomores passed the reading and writing sections of the exit-level Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, known as the TAAS exam. Eighty-five percent of Black students and 82 percent of Hispanic students passed the reading portion, while 97 percent of White students passed.On the math section, passing rates were 75 percent for Hispanics, 69 percent for Blacks and 91 percent for Whites. In writing, passing rates were 88 percent for Blacks, 86 percent for Hispanics and 97 percent for Whites.Several factors affect minority test scores, including income level, says Graves Ratcliffe. Many minority students come from low-income households, and studies show that students from poorer families don’t tend to do as well as other students on standardized tests. Texas students must make a grade of at least 70 on the test in order to receive a high school diploma. Even with a good grade- point average and other academic accomplishments, students cannot receive a diploma unless they pass the TAAS test, first implemented in 1990.Similar lawsuits have been filed by groups in North Carolina and Nevada.MALDEF contends that an underlying problem with minority test scores is the lack of certified teachers, honors and college preparatory classes at predominately minority public schools in Texas.
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