Soiled Legacy: The Birth of No Child Left Behind in Texas

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There have been several articles describing the “Don’t Mess with Texas Revolt” against its own approach to high-stakes testing and accountability that was legislated in No Child Left Behind. Many Texans, regardless of their political stripes, are fed up with the current approach to high-stakes testing and accountability birthed here in the Lone Star State. There is this recent article in the American Conservative by Tom Pauken, a Texas Workforce Commissioner. One of my favorite quotes:

There are powerful interests arranged to protect the existing testing system. Pearson is the testing contractor and has an existing state contract that pays it nearly $500 million over a five-year period. Sandy Kress, a principal architect of our existing education policy in Texas and President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation, is not only a paid lobbyist for the testing contractor but is also determined to preserve the educational structure he worked so hard to put in place.

More on Kress here.

Jason Stanford, an attorney and freelance journalist in Texas, also wrote a recent piece. Here are my thoughts in his article:

Scores on the Texas test rose, but SAT scores dropped. Researchers discovered that the Texas tests designed by Pearson primarily measured test-taking ability. Apologists cherry picked National Assessment of Educational Progress scores to show progress, but over all Texas lost ground to the rest of the country, found Dr. Julian V. Heilig, an education researcher at the University of Texas, but by then it was too late. The Texas Miracle, mirage or not, was the law of the land.

“The reason why we’re seeing, well, what we’re seeing, after 10 years of No Child Left Behind is the fact that we didn’t close the gaps, the fact that our graduation rates haven’t gone anywhere, our dropout rates haven’t improved because Texas never did that in the 1990s,” said Heilig. “Accountability had never delivered that. It had never done it. And that’s why over the last 10 years now that we have Texas-style accountability and policy in the whole United States, the reason why it didn’t deliver is because it never delivered in Texas then.”

As a former employee of the Houston Independent School District, we inside the belly of the beast had access to our data and knew accountability hadn’t delivered on the scale that was being promoted in the popular press. At that time Dr. Linda McNeil and Dr. Angela Valenzuela’s research was seen as loony and on the periphery. However, their work on “teaching to the test” “pushout of children” and the “narrowing curriculum” is clearly vindicated nearly 15 years later.

Even as recently as 2008, most Texans were still drinking the high-stakes testing and accountability Kool-Aid. I was called into a meeting with the Chair of Educational Administration and a UT-Austin Vice President because of a peer-reviewed research paper that I had written published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis that was critical of high-stakes testing and accountability and was offensive to an influential alumnus. Here is that paper in case you are curious. Despite “being called into the principal’s office,” it ended up winning best research paper at UT-Austin that year— a first and only for the College of Education.

For decades Texas and the nation has been in denial about the failure and unintended consequences of high-stakes testing and accountability. We are finally waking up.

So what is an alternative to the current accountability approach?: See Community-Based Accountability.

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Categories: Accountability, High-Stakes Testing

Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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5 Comments on “Soiled Legacy: The Birth of No Child Left Behind in Texas”

  1. Rosa
    February 18, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Are there concerns with local accountability of lower awareness=lower achievement?

  2. February 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Nice job!…Have we been creating “lifelong lovers of learning?” I think NOT!
    Time to get back to improving teaching strategies and making connections.

    See you at the NSTA conference in San Antonio?

    Warren Phillips “Science Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Is School Accountability (Texas) Toast? - February 25, 2013

    [...] Heilig and other reform-doubters warned testing pressures were producing “teaching to the test, push-out of children, and the [...]

  2. WaPo: An education reform warning for Democrats | Cloaking Inequity - February 28, 2013

    [...] Heilig and other reform-doubters warned testing pressures were producing “teaching to the test, push-out of children, and the [...]

  3. An education reform warning for Democrats | ΕΝΙΑΙΟ ΜΕΤΩΠΟ ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑΣ - December 29, 2013

    […] Heilig and other reform-doubters warned testing pressures were producing “teaching to the test, push-out of children, and the […]

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