When failing is passing

Around this time last year, schools in Texas were waiting with bated breath for their state report cards. This year, the pressure's a little less intense. That's because, under Texas's six-month-old revamped accountability system, some students who fail statewide tests will still be counted as passing--so long as they're on track to pass at some point before they graduate high school. Growth models like this one have been slowly catching on in many states in the hope of softening NCLB's binary scoring scheme. And of course there's much talk of replacing simple "proficiency" determinations with value-added metrics in the next round of NCLB itself. But here's one question left unanswered: What happens if, when the fated "passing" year arrives, a student still doesn't pass? The answer: Nothing. That's because the Texas Projection Measure, as the system is called, never tempers score predictions with reality. Say a sixth grader fails TAKS but is projected to pass in eighth grade; if that same student actually fails in eighth grade, the school is not penalized. Instead, projections readjust, and our former-sixth-now-eighth-grader's scores are now calibrated to predictions for passing the eleventh grade test. As Education Trust's Daria Hall explains, "From a school perspective, a student never has to actually be proficient. It's always projected into future grades." Though the Texas Education Agency says the tool is still "evolving," this system resembles the opposite of survival of the fittest.

"Schools get credit for kids predicted to pass TAKS," by Molly K. Hacker and Jeffrey Weiss, Dallas Morning News, July 5, 2009

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