The Academic Dishonesty of High-Stakes Testing Will Perpetuate

Jul 25, 2011 by

A significant majority of at-risk minority students cannot read with grade-level comprehension the textbooks and instructional materials that are used in public school classrooms.  This includes the core academic disciplines of language arts, science, math and history.

This is a basic fact that no state’s high-stakes testing program can permanently disguise with academically corrupt testing standards or statistical manipulation of passing requirements.

Minority leaders and groups that represent at-risk minority children in this nation have a cumulative choice.  They can adopt the Richard Nixon strategy of dealing with evidence.  Or, they can embrace the evidence; go back to court with a different legal theory than in many past cases such as ones in Texas; and force the system to deal financially and structurally with reality.

Just as destroying the tape did not save the Nixon Presidency, ignoring reality will not save future generations of at-risk minority children struggling to find a role in a global world that does not involve a prison cell, entrenched poverty and general dependence upon society.

Minority leaders should begin with a simple premise rooted in honesty.

Academic Dishonesty

Any state that uses a high stakes testing program for accountability purposes (as the Texas’ system has) that disguises to any degree this underlying fact is perpetuating a second American plantation system for significant percentages of our minority youth.

America’s first plantation system outlawed education.  The second and emerging plantation system is increasingly grounded in the notion that the states of our union can lie with impunity about having met their constitutional, statutory and moral burden of the transition from ‘separate but equal’ to ‘equal and equal.’

Both the ‘retired’ TAAS and the current TAKS testing programs in Texas have tried both techniques cited above to make it more difficult for parents and taxpayers to understand the brutal truth of this assessment.

However, whether it involves Texas, New York, Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina or any other state, the goal of criterion testing for purposes of accountability is achieving a standardized political goal.

The public school system as an industry cannot sustain the financial and political support it demands with the brutal failure it produces.  This is a system that has become financially dependent upon high dropout rates.

Imagine for a moment what it would cost the public education industry if minority dropout rates were not routinely 40% or more in urban environments.

Let’s restate that even more forcefully.  The public education system has developed a vested financial interest in high dropout rates. The vast majority of these students are children of color.

This ‘system’ is committed to doing whatever is necessary within individual political environments to sustain political and financial support by any means necessary.

Actual academic integrity is an inconsequential component of the high-stakes testing movement.

In this column and the next one, we are going to focus upon two issues:

The real world of inner city education in the Houston Independent School District that is not atypical of districts with high enrollment numbers of at-risk, minority students.  The story in Texas is important to people beyond its borders.
A call to action among parents, taxpayers and civil rights groups throughout the nation to join together to stop what has become of accountability testing.  It has become a sinister abuse of children.  It has unethically advanced corporate whoredom.  I’ll present my road map of how to stop this nonsense.

Set aside as totally meaningless the national awards that have accrued to Houston I.S.D. since Dr. Rod Paige became the district’s superintendent of schools and then Secretary of Education.

These awards were grounded in political, corporate and professional consultancy relationships.  They proved mutually beneficial to all involved.

Rather, let’s take a look at Worthing High School in Houston I.S.D. that was awarded the State’s second highest academic rating in 2001.  Its “recognized” status was a symbol of the State’s success in closing the academic equity gap among White and minority students.

Student performance on the reading portion of the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT9) has declined over the last two academic years.

Some 82% of the 10th grade students at Worthing High School performed below the 50th percentile on SAT9 reading in 2002.

That’s just a small component of the tragedy at a school at which Texas claimed the equity gap between White and minority students had narrowed substantially during its “Miracle.”

Some 68% of the sophomores were below the 40th percentile; 58% were below the 30th percentile and 39% were below the 20th percentile.

SAT9 results for the 2003 academic year document that the mean NPR results in reading of the 9th, 10th, and 11th graders at Worthing were the 20th, 22nd, and 24th percentile respectively.

I can cite some Houston I.S.D. ‘non-magnet’, high school campuses where the performance is somewhat worse or somewhat better.

What doesn’t change is the unmistakable conclusion that when ‘Worthing’ is extrapolated throughout the system, there are many thousands of at-risk minority students in Houston I.S.D. who cannot read with comprehension their instructional materials.  Extrapolated nationwide, the magnitude of the tragedy is profound.

I am not going to take words in this column to elaborate on the additional information that is available through various sources on student performance in math and science.  However, the picture doesn’t change.  I have documented much of this in my previous columns and will document more in future ones.

Who profits when there are literally thousands of textbooks and instructional materials assigned to individual campuses for which students do not have even the pre-pre-requisite academic skills to succeed?

At a single campus where the vast majority of students cannot read at grade-level and where requisite skills in math ‘top out’ at a mean level of junior high at best, we treat the children of Worthing High School just like everything is OK.

From textbooks for physics, chemistry, algebra 1, algebra II, and other non-math or science disciplines, we spend billions of dollars cumulatively as a nation to keep the fundamental lie alive.

As my wife and I were hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire last week, a public school math teacher from an industrial belt state happened to pass us.  A two-minute conversation in New Hampshire in conjunction with many other conversations with classroom teachers elsewhere reveals that it is basically the same throughout this land.

Ask any classroom teacher.

Ask about Houston I.S.D.’s Williams Middle School that carried the State’s acceptable rating.  This means that it was in compliance with the Texas’ academic standards defining constitutionally acceptable closure of the academic equity gap between White and minority students.

At this campus in 2002, 80% of the students in the eighth grade were below the 50th percentile in reading and 83% were below the 50th percentile in math.

The mean SAT9 reading scores for the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades for 2003 were 28th, 24th, and 24th percentiles respectively.  In truth, this is one of the worst middle school campuses in the District. Texas has had an accountability system that sanctified this campus as ‘acceptable’ at which a majority of students ‘needed’ the Hubble telescope to see grade-level reading skills.

A review of the inventory of textbooks and instructional materials at this campus tells the typical story that is repeated on campus after campus throughout Houston I.S.D.

As raw data continues to become available over the next six weeks or so on the TAKS results for 2003, I’ll be able to provide much more detailed analysis.  However, there is already sufficient data to conclude that my columns’ earlier conclusions and predictions remain valid.

As I present my road map for minority leaders in this nation in my next column, it will focus upon three basic premises:

Constitutional compliance with closure of the academic equity gap will be grounded in academic integrity on a grade-level criterion basis.
All students who complete 12 years of public school curriculum or its equivalent will not be punished additionally by a system designed to hold campuses and districts accountable.  Rather, any punishment enacted by the accountability system will focus upon contractual status of appropriate employees.
Lawsuits to recover financial damages from the following:

     * Vendors that have schemed with educational officials to provide instructional materials and programs with knowledge that targeted students lack the requisite academic skills to use effectively.

      * Professional consultants, test-development contractors and corporations that have schemed with educational officials to help develop, implement and ‘validate’ accountability programs that have provided the foundation for false claims of success in closing the academic equity gap and further misrepresent the true academic skills of students.

      * Education officials and school board members who have abandoned their fiduciary responsibilities to taxpayers and students by authorizing and sanctioning the misallocation of public resources under false pretenses.

Among the above group of professionals and officials are individuals and corporations whose conduct has damaged students and robbed taxpayers.  Real accountability must include making these people and institutions responsible for their abandonment of stewardship.


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