TaKS projection ratings attacked on their accuracy
DALLAS — TAKS report cards sent this spring to Texas parents included a new piece of information: predictions of whether kids are on track to be ready for college.
For some parents, the projections brought the disturbing news that their children might lose their “commended” ratings. But the state didn’t tell parents that some of those warnings could be false.
School districts were left in the same bind: They received projections that could be off by as much as 20 percentage points.
Some critics see the commended predictions as one more reason to scrap the Texas Projection Measure altogether.
“If you don’t have confidence that the measures you’re getting from the state are accurate, then even the legitimate successes are subject to question. And that’s not fair to the educators and the parents who work
so hard,” Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said.
The Texas Projection Measure was implemented last year to allow schools to count as passing any student who failed a TAKS test but was projected to pass future tests. Doing so helped more than 2,000 schools earn higher school performance ratings.
Projections about commended ratings were added this year to give parents and educators an early look at how students might perform on harder tests scheduled to start in three years. A commended score on the TAKS indicates mastery of a subject.
Hochberg, chairman of a House subcommittee on education, raised doubts about the accuracy of the predicted TAKS passing rates during a hearing last month. That hearing did not touch on the commended projections. But The Dallas Morning News examined those commended predictions and found that many show a troubling decline.
On Thursday, Education
‘You would not want to draw the conclusion that we believe performance in the state of Texas is going to plunge.’
TEA’s deputy associate commissioner for assessment
Commissioner Robert Scott told the state Board of Education that the Texas Projection Measure is “statistically accurate, valid and reasonable.” But he has said that he’ll consider scrapping it or scaling back its use.
Other top agency officials say the predictions are inevitably imperfect and shouldn’t cause alarm.
“You would not want to draw the conclusion that we believe performance in the state of Texas is going to plunge,” Gloria Zyskowski, TEA’s deputy associate commissioner for assessment, said. Nor should parents panic if their children are predicted to fall from “commended” status, she said.
“I would just interpret it with a grain of salt,” she said.
Zyskowski said any statistical measure used to predict future test scores won’t be totally accurate, especially for children already achieving at high levels. And officials say they selected the best model available with feedback from testing experts, teachers and others.
State officials knew about limitations of the Texas Projection Measure before the data was distributed to parents and school districts.
“Previous analyses indicate that underprojecting commended performance by 10 percent to 20 percent is not unusual,” TEA officials wrote in response to questions from the News. That information, however, was not included on the report card sent to parents or disclosed to school districts.
One education policymaker said the predictions are too inaccurate to help families or educators.
“It’s sending mixed signals to schools, to parents and to kids themselves,” said Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy for the Education Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that advocates for poor and minority students. Hall served on a federal panel that reviewed Texas’ new model, which the U.S. Department of Education approved in January 2009.
“These data, at their core, ought to be providing useful and quite clear information to parents, teachers and students about where they are and where they need to go,” Hall said.
The Texas Projection Measure predicts student scores on future Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests based on the students’ current scores and average scores at their schools. Yet some predicted commended rates depart radically from recent trends.
For example, 46 percent of Texas students who took the eighth-grade reading TAKS this spring scored commended. Next spring, only 27 percent of students are expected to score commended on the same test — an unprecedented 19-point drop.
But because the system may be underprojecting by up to 20 percentage points, it’s possible the commended rate could actually go up by 1 point.
Despite the lack of precision, Zyskowski said the projections are a valuable tool when assessing student progress. “It’s a powerful piece of information, but it’s just one piece of information about the student,” she said.