The recently released SAT exam results reflect a decline in both math and reading scores across the nation, but the declines were remarkably worse in Texas, where math scores dropped nine points to an average of 486 and reading scores fell six points to an average of 470. In both cases, these represent the worst performance in over twenty years. Many educators and other observers want to attribute the decline to the steady increase in the number of students taking the exam, particularly noting the increase in minority students who generally perform worse than their white counterparts. But I have another take on it.
In 2009, after almost twenty years of steady progress in raising public education standards, enhancing accountability systems, and increasing the expectations of both students and educators, Texas finally put in place for the first time a rigorous system of accountability and assessments that, when fully implemented, would make postsecondary (college and career) readiness the organizing principle of the PreK-12 education system. This achievement was the result of very hard work and continuity of purpose on the part of educators, business leaders, and public policymakers. And along the way, based on the results of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments, Texas was making good progress in advancing the scores of all students and, in particular, closing the achievement gap between whites and minority groups. So what happened?
Beginning almost immediately, this accountability system, which had been rated by national organizations as the best in the country, came under relentless attack by a firestorm of misguided opposition to standardized and so-called “high stakes” testing that by the end of the legislative session in 2013 had virtually gutted the system. The result has been a lowering of expectations, relaxation of accountability, and dilution of rigor in the curriculum. And I believe that this, more than any other factor, is producing the disheartening decline in the achievement of our kids as reflected in the SAT scores released this week as well as recent trends in the Texas NAEP scores.
We have a major challenge ahead of us to reverse these policy mistakes and I hope that this can be a “wake up” call for the need to rebuild the leadership consensus that once made Texas the national leader in education reform.