019 111 don’t compute. The TEA’s claims of success are as slippery as the creative accounting making headlines on business pages. Under pressure from politicians, businessmen and administrators, school districts consistently inflate scores. There are ‘various ways to game the system. As the TEA cracks down on one scheme, another surfaces. Until recently a popular method was simply to stick a child in a special education section where their TAAS scores won’t be counted. Consequently, from 1994 to 1998, as TAAS scores rose, the number of special education kids in Texas grew by 60 percent. “There are schools where teachers tell us a principal or a counselor will sometimes apply for a special education designation for a kid, knowing they’re going to be turned down, but in the meantime, the kid won’t have to take the TAAS,” reports Linda McNeil, a professor at Rice University, and a vocal critic of the system. “I have seen principals encourage parents to have their kids be sick on test days,” affirms Deborah Diffily, who taught kindergarten and first grade for eleven years in Fort Worth before becoming a professor at SMU. Diffily also saw firsthand how the effort to raise scores led to an intense focus on “the bubble kids.”These were children right on the cusp of passing. Helping the bubble kids pass is statistically significant but not educationally so. By focusing on a small middle cluster, it stiffs those children most at risk and those most inclined to achieve. “In the months before the test, [teachers] ignore the kids who they know will pass; they ignore the kids who they know won’t pass; and they just concentrate on the kids they can nudge up over the mark,” she says. “In Dallas and Fort Worth, I’ve seen whole classes sent down ‘the hall to watch videos while others were drilled.” And then of course, there is the straight cheat. These problems seem to be concentrated in large immigrant population centers like Dallas, Houston, and Austin where the pressure is Children’s drawings are from the article What Can Student Drawings Tell Us About High-Stakes Testing in Massachusetts? by Anne Wheelock, Damian J. Bebell, and Walt Haney, at www.tcrecord.org . Teachers College greatest. One such case involves George Bush High School in Fort Bend County. The largely minority school opened in 2001 and almost immediately achieved a stupendous 99 percent passing rate. District officials later discovered that 76 out of 430 sophomores didn’t take the test. Some scores appear to have been voided. Answer sheets for tenth graders were made to look like those for eleventh graders. The school’s TAAS coordinator and the principal resigned after an anonymous tip to the TEA exposed the shenanigans. In January, the Austin Independent School District pled no contest to 16 counts of tampering with government records. A deputy superintendent is awaiting trial. Officials were charged with changing student identification numbers to eliminate their tests from the data pool. Another way the TEA enables schools to artificially inflate scores is through the use of the GED, the high school graduate equivalency exam. For the TEA, the GED is a two-fer. If a poor-performing kid leaves school to take the GED, he doesn’t have to take the TAAS/TAKS and isn’t included in the scores. But, even though the student doesn’t graduate, the TEA does not count the departure as a dropout. Consequently, drop-out rates remained low as GED testing during the mid-1990s rose sharply. The drop-out rates in Texas are so misleading that the U.S. Department of Education recently declared Texas ineligible for $9 million in federal dropout money. To sustain the miracle myth, the TEA claimed that from 1994 to 1998 dropout rates declined steadily. The state’s numbers for 2000-2001 showed only about a 1 percent dropout rate. About 1.3 percent had allegedly dropped out of school in the previous year. 8130/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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