NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Real are Gains in Houston Schools?

December 4, 2003

In recent years, Texas has trumpeted the academic gains of its students largely on the basis of a statewide test, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). However, an examination of the performance of students in Houston by the New York Times questions the magnitude of those gains.

[NCPA experts point out that Texas students are taught the content tested by TAAS, whereas the SAT is a test of general intellectual skills. Thus it is not surprising that improvement on a curriculum-based test would not be reflected on the SAT.]

Scores on a national exam (the Stanford Achievement Test or SAT) that Houston students took alongside the state exam from 1999 to 2002 showed much smaller gains and falling scores in high school reading.

The Times analysis of the state exam and the SAT results shows:

  • Houston students improved from 1999 to 2002 in most grades, but only at a fraction of the rate portrayed by the state exam.
  • Some 57 percent of students who took the math test in 1999 and 2002, and 51 percent of those who took the reading test, saw their standing relative to children around the country either fall or remain the same.
  • On the SAT, the average reading scores for students of all races in grades 9 through 11 have actually dropped since 1999; by contrast, the reading scores for 10th graders on the Texas exam showed a large gain over the same period.

Also, the achievement gap between whites and minorities, which Houston authorities have argued has nearly disappeared on the Texas exam, remains huge on the SAT test; the ranking of the average white student was 36 points higher than that of the average black student in 1999 and fell slightly, to 34 points, in 2002.

Source: Diana Jean Schemo and Ford Fessenden, "Gains in Houston Schools: How Real Are They?" New York Times, December 3, 2003.

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