By Jesse Rincones
Over the past several years most states have begun the difficult work of raising academic expectations for students by implementing rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments. Sadly, Texas officials continue to set the bar low and, worse, are effectively masking the problem with tests that fail to reflect the skills and knowledge that students need to become college- and career-ready.
Last month, Achieve and the Collaborative for Student Success released a report that finds that more than half of the states have significantly narrowed their “Honesty Gap.” The Honesty Gap, Achieve reported last year, is the discrepancy between state-reported proficiency rates and those identified by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, an objective nationwide test. At the time, more than half of the states had a 30-percentage point or more Honesty Gap in fourth-grade reading or eighth-grade math.
However, most states have begun to address the problem by implementing high education standards and high-quality student assessments. In a follow-up analysis conducted last month, Achieve points out 26 states that have made significant improvement to match up their proficiency rates with those found by NAEP. “With standards and tests that gauge whether students are able to show they can do grade-level work, parents are provided better information so they can partner with educators to impact student achievement,” the report notes.
Unfortunately, Texas remains glued in its old system, even though it isn’t working. In fact, the Achieve report classifies the Lone Star State as “Honesty Challenged”—one of only four states to earn the designation—for continuing to report proficiency rates well in excess of NAEP. In fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math, Texas reported proficiency rates 43-percentage points above NAEP levels.
A similar study by Harvard University offers an equally harsh evaluation of Texas’ reluctance to raise the bar for classrooms or to level with parents. The Harvard report, also released last month, gives Texas the lowest grade of any state, a “D+”. It notes that since the 2011-12 school year, education officials have pledged to phase in higher proficiency benchmarks, but now, four years later, the new benchmarks have yet to materialize.
The Bible tells us that unjust scales are an abomination. And, difficult though it is to accept, that is what Texas’ schools are offering. Instead of setting learning goals that reflect the skills and knowledge base students need to ultimately graduate from high school prepared for college and careers, officials have left targets low. Even worse, they have glossed over this reality by setting soft definitions of proficiency that tell parents their children are ready, when in fact they may not be.
For many families, this problem does not become apparent until their child steps into college only to find they require remediation before they can begin credit-bearing coursework. That very often leads to substantial student debt with no degree to show for it. Less than a third of Texas students at four-year colleges that require remedial classes earn a degree within six years; less than six percent of those at community colleges that enter remediation graduate within three years.
For most families, public schools are the only option they have to educate their children. We cannot afford for these institutions to consistently produce graduates who are not prepared for college or a good job. Improving outcomes must begin with honestly reporting where young people are so teachers can build on what’s working and provide support when and where students need it.
The Bible calls us to raise up our children with an edifying education so that they might walk in the plans God has put on their lives (Prov. 22:6; Jer. 29:11). While the rest of the country moves forward, Texas families cannot continue to rely on standards and assessments that do not help students achieve their full potential. There’s an old saying that everything is bigger in Texas. The Honesty Gap should not be one of them.
Jesse Rincones, J.D., Executive Director of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas, is a member of the Faith and Education Coalition and serves on the board of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC).