Public Education
10:45 pm
Wed August 22, 2012

Ratliff: AYP and What It Really Means to Texas

MT. PLEASANT - State Board of Education Member Thomas Ratliff is speaking out on the recent Adequate Yearly Progress report and the “distorted view it is providing to Texans about our schools.”

Ratliff, whose 9th District stretches from Collin County to the Red River and down south, listed three factors in determining AYP and cites the annual report as unfair, comparing some of its flaws to the Texas accountability system.

“It provides a very skewed report on the health of a school district or campus based on the scores of one student sub-population on one standardized test on one day of a 180-day school year,” the statement read.

He adds that these kinds of flawed accountability systems create perception and political problems and called on the Texas Legislature and Congress to reform the system. 

Here's the full statement:

With the recent headlines about the Federal Government releasing the latest Department of Education “report card” for AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress, I thought it might be helpful to explain the distorted view it is providing to Texans about our schools.

Here are a few important things to note about AYP:

First, AYP only reports on student test scores on reading and math.  While these are important subjects, they aren’t the only subjects being taught in our schools.

Second, like the Texas accountability system, AYP only reports to the public how the lowest performing student sub-group performed on those tests (i.e. Anglo, Hispanic, African American, or Special Education students).

Third, the Federal government imposes an artificial limit on the number of students who are allowed to take a “modified” version of the standardized test due to disabilities (blind or motor skill impairment) or other factors (multiple sclerosis) that prevent the student from taking the “normal” version.  Keep in mind that the decision to allow students to take a modified test is made at the local level by a committee made up of teachers, counselors, principals and the parents of the child.  This decision can only be made after a child has attempted to take the “normal” test and has shown a difficulty or inability to be successful due to his/her disability.  If a district exceeds this artificial Federal limit, any child over that limit who takes the modified test is counted as an automatic failure, even if the child passed the test.

Here’s what happened to an elementary school in my district.

The elementary school had an overall passing rate of 92% on reading and 96% on math.

Hispanic students were required to have a passing rate of 87% for reading and the elementary school missed this benchmark by 2 students, so they were labeled as failing AYP, but that’s not the whole story.

The elementary school exceeded the artificial cap of “modified” test takers by 6 students.  Therefore all of those tests were labeled as “failing” the test, even though some passed.  If some of these students were Hispanic, this would have counted against the district twice in the eyes of the Federal system.

Does this sound fair or reasonable to you?  It certainly doesn’t to me.

One of the problems with AYP, just like the current Texas accountability system, is it provides a very skewed report on the health of a school district or campus based on the scores of one student sub-population on one standardized test on one day of a 180-day school year.

Can schools continue to improve these scores?  Certainly.  Could teachers decide to force students who should be given the modified test to take the regular test just to make their campus look better to the Federal government?  Sure.  But is that what is best for the student?  No way.

These kinds of flawed accountability systems create perception and political problems for our schools, teachers, parents and students.  The general public perceives that our schools are doing worse than they actually are.  This in turn creates a political problem because various interest groups and elected officials want to use these results to argue for increased regulations, sanctions, or other actions designed to “punish” these poor schools.  Other interest groups want to use these results to argue for vouchers or other “school choice” programs to help kids escape these “failing” schools.  We need an accountability system that provides a complete picture of the performance of a school district, not the current system that provides a very distorted picture.

Let me be clear.  No school district is perfect, whether it is a public, charter school or private school.  If the public and policy-makers want to compare the different ways to educate kids, let’s at least compare them with a fair and accurate methodology that looks at more than just standardized test scores and let’s compare them on a level playing field.

It’s time for the Texas Legislature and the United States Congress to achieve their own adequate yearly progress on reforming the accountability systems for our public schools.  The taxpayers deserve a more transparent and accurate report of our schools.

All together, over 44 percent of schools statewide met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards compared to nearly 48 percent that fell short, according to the Texas Education Agency, who released its annual report August 15.

The Dodd City, Ector, Sulphur Bluff and Wolfe City school districts are among those found to have met AYP standards, while Lone Oak ISD missed AYP despite each of its four campuses found in compliance. See the breakdown here.

Meanwhile, the districts of Bonham, Commerce, Greenville, Honey Grove, Paris and Quinlan fall into the School Improvement Plan.

In reviewing the data Monday, Commerce ISD Superintendent Cooper said, “We [the district] will get there [meet AYP].” CISD, along with 72 percent of all districts in the state, missed the mark which has been steadily increasing.

The corrective action plan chosen by the District includes a revision of the district improvement plan to address identified needs. The District must send a letter to parents during the first week of school identifying the needs and the plans for addressing them.

Director of Curriculum Julia Robinson showed the Board a new tool which provides specific information to each teacher that shows which objectives were not mastered over time. The data has been input and results target specific objectives that require attention so that students can be directly helped.

The bar has been set so high to validate the state and federal governments’ desire to support vouchers, school choice and charter schools, according to Cooper.

“We have good kids and great teachers who have incredible work ethics. We will get there,” he said.