SCHOOL MIRACLES VS
Los Angeles Times Editorial
August 16, 2003
The Houston school system brags a lot about its numbers. The city's former
schools chief, Rod Paige, rode those numbers to his current job
as U.S. secretary of Education. If only all those numbers reflected reality.
Texas now alleges that the Houston schools, which reported an incredibly low
1.5% dropout rate in 2000-01, neglected to count thousands of dropouts. Houston
also looked good when the National Center for Education Statistics reported that
it outshone four other big cities,
including Los Angeles, on fourth-grade reading. It turns out that Houston didn't
test half of its non-English-fluent students, thus eliminating what was sure to
be a batch of low scores.
So much for the Houston miracle.
For that matter, New York, the only urban district to outscore Houston on the
national reading exam, also kept half of its limited-English
students from taking the test.
Numbers-polishing has become a sad byproduct of high-stakes accountability.
That's important to remember as the school accountability movement pumps out an
endless stream of data about student learning, including California's statewide
achievement test results, released Friday.
Many states over the years have been reducing the numbers of students with
limited English or learning disabilities who take the National
Assessment of Educational Progress exam. Conversely, California has been
steadily including more of those students, thus giving the public a more
realistic, if decidedly unrosy, picture of student achievement.
Los Angeles, for example, excluded just one in seven limited-English students
from taking the national test, so of course it came off looking
far worse than New York and Houston in the national reading report. Only 11% of
L.A.'s fourth-graders read proficiently — about the same as in Atlanta,
Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The abysmal bottom line is that students in all of these large urban districts
are foundering. Neither the mayoral takeover of schools in
Chicago nor the years-long focus on accountability in Texas has overcome the
learning barriers for urban children, the most likely to come from poor,
immigrant and uneducated families. Trying to pretend differently keeps educators
from looking for better solutions.
At a minimum, the National Center for Education Statistics should report the
exclusion figures side by side with scores so the public gets a
California students have a long way to go in acquiring essential skills. No one
denies this. That's the first step toward real accountability.