Law & Courts

Texas Principal Posts Test Scores of Classes

By Michelle Galley — September 17, 2003 3 min read
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An elementary school principal in Dallas has taken the unusual step of displaying class scores on the state’s accountability test.

Individual students’ scores are not included in the large bar charts hanging in the school hallway. But the passing scores for each class that took last spring’s Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills—including 3rd grade reading, 4th grade writing, 5th grade science, and 6th grade mathematics—are on view at Maple Lawn Elementary School.

Juanita Nix, the principal of the 850-student pre-K-6 school, said she could not comment on the scores’ display without authorization from the administration at the Dallas Independent School District.

Repeated phone calls seeking comment from the district administration, including the public-information officer, were not returned.

In an interview with TheDallasMorning News, Ms. Nix said, “I think everyone has a right to know where they stand,” adding that posting the scores was “a little gutsy.”

Gutsy or not, the action is certainly unusual.

In her 25 years of working with teachers in Dallas, Aimee Bolander, the president of Alliance/AFT, the Dallas affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said she has seen class-by-class student scores put out for public scrutiny only twice before.

Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, the director of communications for the Texas Education Agency, said she was unaware of any other principals who have similarly made test scores public.

Locally, the move has garnered mixed reactions.

Mike Moses, the superintendent of the 166,000-student Dallas district and a former state schools chief in Texas, has been quoted as praising Ms. Nix.

“I give credit to the teachers and principal for leadership and having the courage to put a focus on teacher effectiveness,” he told the Morning News.

Humiliating Teachers?

By posting the passing rate of each class, Ms. Nix has stirred the ire of the local teachers’ union, which contends that the display establishes an unfair system of accountability for individual teachers.

“We think it is extremely unprofessional to do that,” Ms. Bolander said in reference to the display of scores.

“It doesn’t help to increase the learning of students by humiliating teachers publicly,” Ms. Bolander said in an interview last week.

This past spring was the first time the TAKS test, which replaced the 12-year-old Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, was administered statewide. The new exam was designed to reflect more closely the state’s curriculum standards, and has generally been considered more difficult than its predecessor.

What’s more, high school graduation and grade promotion at three levels—the 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades—is tied to passing certain sections of the TAKS. (“Texas to Phase In New Performance Standards,” Nov. 27, 2002.)

For example, 3rd graders must pass the TAKS reading exam in order to move on to 4th grade. Pilot tests administered during the 2001-02 school year showed that 23 percent of the 3rd grade students in Texas would have failed.

Yet, this past spring, when the test counted, 96 percent of 3rd graders in the state passed the TAKS reading exam after three attempts. And of those who failed, 29 percent passed at the highest level possible on their third attempt.

Student performance is one of 52 measures used in Texas to evaluate teachers’ performance, Ms. Ratcliffe said. Classwide TAKS scores could be used by schools as a proxy for that measure, she added.

The state education department makes individual school- and district-level scores publicly available, as well as the scores for certain racial and ethnic populations and students from low-income families, Ms. Ratcliffe said.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, districts nationwide will have to show school-by-school breakdowns of student test scores, as well as grade by grade for the 3rd through 8th grades.

The state does not tabulate data at the classroom level “because of concerns over federal privacy issues,” Ms. Ratcliffe said.

If individual student test scores—which are supposed to remain confidential—are made public, that would breach students’ privacy. Posting classwide scores creates the potential for that to happen, she said.

“If the chart says that 14 of the 18 children in the room passed the test,” Ms. Ratcliffe said, “it might be possible to determine who failed and who passed.”

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