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Revisiting the Myth of the Texas Miracle in Education: Lessons about Dropout Research and Dropout Prevention Walt Haney

Authors: Walt Haney
Date Published: January 01, 2001

This report suggests that education officials should stop misusing test results find better ways of helping low achieving students besides flunking them and forcing them to repeat the ninth grade.
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This paper extends an examination of grade enrollment and high school graduation patterns in Texas presented in “The Myth of the Texas Miracle in Education” (Haney, 2000). Using enrollment data from 1975-76 through 1999-2000, I examine the pattern apparent between flunking grade 9 and failure to persist in school to high school graduation. Before focusing on this particular topic, I provide a summary of the “Myth” article, supplemented by new evidence available since publication of that article in August 2000.

The Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) was introduced in Texas in 1990-91. Since then TAAS testing has been the linchpin of educational accountability in Texas, not just for students, but also for educators and schools. A variety of evidence in the late 1990s led a number of observers to conclude that the state of Texas had made near miraculous educational progress on a number of fronts. Between 1994 and 1998, the percentage of students passing the three grade 10 TAAS tests had grown from 52% to more than 70%. Also, the racial gap in TAAS results seemed to have narrowed. Statistics from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) showed that over the same interval dropout rates had declined steadily. Finally, in 1997, release of results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed Texas 4th graders to have made more progress on NAEP math tests between 1992 and 1996 than those in any other state participating in state NAEP testing. These developments led to a flurry of praise for the apparent educational progress of the Lone Star State. Among the plaudits for Texas cited in the Myth article were those by Haycock, Palmaffy, Grissmer & Flanagan, the National Education Goals Panel and editorial writers for a number of newspapers, including the Boston Globe and USA Today (see Haney, 2000, section 3.5 for more detail.) While I have not attempted to keep track of all commentary on education in Texas, one source perpetuating the myth of the Texas miracle that has come to my attention since last summer is worth mentioning.    Skrla, Scheurich & Johnson (2000) have written a report based on research in four fairly large Texas districts. Based on analysis of district- generated documents, on-site observations and over 200 individual and group interviews, these researchers concluded that these districts have made dramatic changes in “teaching and learning practices in the classroom,” and because of “changes in equity beliefs” and “the pursuit of educational equity and excellence,” have produced “equitable educational success for literally all the children in their districts” (Skrla, Scheurich & Johnson, 2000, pp.6, 7, 39.)

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