This Chronicle story is completely befuddling:
Students in the Spring Branch school district performed better on the state-mandated Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests last year than the previous year, even though the passing standards were higher.
Superintendent Duncan Klussmann said the district is delighted with the results and thanked campus leaders, teachers and students for their efforts.
It’s not befuddling because I don’t understand it. It’s befuddling because the story is based on one year-old test results (2004’s), and because it’s a fairly glowing account of Spring Branch’s test results. Contrast that with the way the Chronicle tends to write about HISD. Last May it reported HISD’s 2004 test results, and the difference in how the two stories are written up is amazing. Here are some excerpts from last year’s HISD story, now in archives:
Two of every five Houston high school juniors didn’t make the grade on the TAKS exam that they must pass to graduate.
The Houston Independent School District’s 61 percent passing rate is well short of the state passing rate of 72 percent.
This is the first year that every Texas student is required to pass graduation tests in English and language arts, math, science and social studies. In 2003, when the exam didn’t count, just 39 percent of HISD ‘s juniors passed every portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
Now look at those two closely. In 2003, 39 percent of HISD’s juniors didn’t pass, but in 2004, 61 percent passed! Sure 61 percent isn’t 90 percent, but it IS a 22 percent improvement, in one year! And yet, the Chronicle can’t bring itself to characterize it as a positive development. Here’s another example from last year’s HISD story:
Still, Wednesday’s results revealed a major gap in achievement between HISD ‘s Anglo and minority students. Only 54 percent of Hispanic and 57 percent of black juniors passed every portion of the exam, compared with 86 percent of Anglos.
Last year, test results showed a similar disparity, with only about 32 percent of black and Hispanic juniors passing every portion of the exam, compared with almost 66 percent of Anglos.
In 2003 blacks and Hispanics in HISD had passing rates in the 32 percent range. In 2004 they improved to 57 and 54 percent respectively. And the Chronicle frames it negatively! Why can’t the Chronicle acknowledge such a dramatic improvement? It doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more improvement, but at least applaud what was obviously some hard work on the part of HISD teachers and students.
Contrast that with this from Wednesday’s Spring Branch story:
Haffey said the gaps in performance level between student groups were narrower in 2004, while the ranges in performance were higher compared to the previous year.
It is the second year of the three-year phase-in of the TAKS test, in which the passing standards went up by three to five items on each test. The passing standards will rise again next year for the final time. In only one subject area in one grade did scores not increase. They remained the same in fifth-grade reading.
It was the same kind of favorable results at the middle and high school levels where scores improved in all student groups and all subject areas.
Haffey said the overall result was even more remarkable considering the 2003 scores were raised to the 2004 standards for comparison sake.
The scores improved in Spring Branch and the Chronicle characterized it as good news. Yet when scores improved in HISD it was characterized negatively, because it wasn’t a good enough improvement. Spring Branch didn’t have to meet some Chronicle-determined threshold of school adequacy, apparently. I am not saying the Chronicle needs to become a cheerleader for HISD, but rather, it should report the news fairly, leaving out the very obvious editorializing.