Decade of Education Outcome Data: Texas vs. California vs. New York vs. Nation

Today we are pleased to release the report Is Texas leading its peers and the nation?: A Decadal Analysis of Educational Data. The Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin commissioned a policy this report in the spring of 2012 to examine education data for the state of Texas, its peers and the nation. In this report, we gather data from a variety of sources to understand student outcomes in elementary, secondary and higher education by race and ethnicity for the past decade. We believe this is the first report to gather educational data of these types all in one report.

What did we find? (The Executive Summary)

The Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) and Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) exit exam data show that African American and Latina/o students apparently made dramatic achievement gains and narrowed the achievement gaps during the TAAS and TAKS eras. Notably, these gains appear to be reflected in the national NAEP test scores as Texas had the highest 4th grade and 8th grade NAEP scale scores relative to its peer states of New York and California for African Americans and Latina/os.

However, while the achievement gap closes, overall student performance lags.  This is not unique to Texas; each of the most populous states performed worse over the past decade relative to other states in the nation. Texas dropped 21 spots in 4th grade math, four spots in 4th grade reading, and eight spots in 8th grade reading. The only bright spot was that Texas improved its standing by the end of the decade in 8th grade math, moving from 22nd to 18th.

Education policy has not only focused on academic achievement, as measured by test scores, but has also focused on drop out and graduation rates. Despite about 15 years of high-stakes testing and accountability policy, dropout rates and graduation rates for African Americans in Texas do not appear to have improved; in fact, if data from independent empirical sources noted in the report are to be believed, the situation has worsened.

Another important question is whether Texas’ early grade performance on standardized tests relative to peer states also transferred to college entrance exams. Overall ACT composite scores were highest in New York (ranked 4th), followed California (15th) and then Texas (33rd). For African Americans and Latina/os, New York students had the highest ACT composite scores followed by California, then Texas. For the SAT, we found that California had the highest scores followed by Texas and then New York. Only California increased their SAT composite scores (2 points) over the last decade with other two states showing decreases New York (-17 points) and Texas (-4 points). In terms of national rank, California’s SAT rank held steady at 35th in the nation followed by Texas (44th) and New York (47th). In 2009, for African Americans and Latina/os, Texas had the highest SAT composite scores for Latinos amongst peer states, while California had the highest composite scores for African Americans. Therefore, in sum, Texas apparent success in the state-level data released to the public and NEAP scores in elementary and middle school is largely not reflected in composite SAT or ACT scores— except for Latina/os

These results beg the question: Why, considering in the past 20 years of high-stakes testing and accountability policy in the state, have these policies not produced more competitive NAEP scores relative to the nation and greater levels of college readiness in Texas relative to peer states and all other states? Considering that the ultimate goal of our schools is frequently framed as college and career readiness by the legislature, it appears that our current system is not meeting those goals, but state-mandated tests (TAAS, TAKS, STAAR— even NAEP) are instead providing us a false sense of security regarding achievement our schools.

In terms of higher education outcomes, Texas, in comparison to its peer states, finds itself generally surpassing California, but trails New York in virtually all outcomes. New York’s performance on higher education measures suggests that policies in that state are generally assisting African American and Latina/o students in closing the gaps. New York students generally surpassed California and Texas students on every measure, save one very significant exception: New York students allocated far greater amounts of their income toward higher education costs. While this finding is troubling to an extent, students’ aspirations towards higher education, as well as the amount of time they spend outside of class devoted towards studying is noteworthy. Higher education remediation measures are a category that none of the comparison states can truly boast about. In California, New York, and Texas, all three states reported that approximately half of all African American and Latina/o students had taken remedial courses. This speaks to the inequity of educational opportunities before students get to college.

In conclusion, while Texas typically performs in the middle between New York and California on the K-12 and higher education measures, the state is seeing more trends of decline and stasis than growth between 2000 and 2010 relative to all states in the nation. To promote college and career readiness, policymakers need more policy research to help them pinpoint problems and potential solutions.  This report is an example of the beginning of research that illuminates public issues in education but much more is necessary. The analyses in this report find indicate that Texas must stop depending solely on high-stakes testing as a measuring stick of the state’s educational progress and get serious about funding our schools (K-12 and higher education) relative to other states in the nation . California, in this instance, may serve as a bellwether demonstrating the catastrophic effects of extended divestment in education.

Cite as: Vasquez Heilig, J., Jez, S. & Reddick, R. (2012). Is Texas leading its peers and the nation?: A Decadal Analysis of Educational Data. The Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis. University of Texas at Austin.


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