A report last week from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that Texas experienced an extremely worrisome drop between 2011 and 2015 in eighth-grade math proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
This news was devastating. Up until 2011, Texas had made gains in each administration of the NAEP for 20 years, and its students’ scores had one of the best upward trajectories in the nation.
Each subgroup of students had made so much progress over two decades that they were all finally, and historically, within range of being at grade level for eighth graders.
But the drop from 2011 to 2015 was so bad that our black students lost approximately a grade level in just those four years, and Hispanic and white students lost roughly more than half a grade level.
The Texas Education Agency put out a rather pitiful statement taking credit for gains that had been achieved by others in earlier years, acting as if this stunning recent drop had not even happened.
As best I can tell, no political leader has yet bothered to express concern or any commitment to take action to put the state back on track.
Of course, this is only the most recent of several measures showing stagnation or actual declines in student achievement in Texas, and all to a chorus of silence.
Neither has there been a statement of specific concern from any public interest group, at least not yet.
I asked the leader of one reform group why they hadn’t issued a statement expressing specific alarm. She indicated that they had been advised that they couldn’t because this drop wasn’t statistically significant.
I asked some of the most respected experts in the nation about this. They told me it was clearly significant statistically.
For example, you could say with respect to the Hispanic numbers that there is less than a 1 in 1000 chance that the reported decline is due to chance.
Friends, our 8th graders have lost significant ground in this key measure of high school math readiness.
We no longer require our students to pass Algebra I exams, even at very low levels. We no longer require students to take math beyond geometry, nor do we create a strong incentive for them to do so.
We no longer require students to take science beyond biology or create a strong incentive for them to do so.
And we no longer measure for college or career readiness in math or hold ourselves accountable for graduating students ready for post-secondary math.
Our SAT and ACT results are flat or declining. And our post-secondary completions that had been growing nicely have flattened in the last three years.
All this is so, even though we live in a world in which many of the best jobs are in science, technology, engineering and math, and the competition for those jobs is intense and global.
But what’s worse than all that is that one hears not a peep of concern from any quarter about our serious recent losses.
This is bad, and it’s statistically significant.
Whether it’s being hidden, washed over or ignored so that you don’t hear about it, it’s real and menacing.
Sandy Kress is an Austin attorney who helped draft the 2001 No Child Left Behind education reform law under President George W. Bush.