TAAS Tests Nudge Up Achievement

Published March 1, 2000

In his January 7 ruling on the case involving the tenth-grade Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test, U.S. District Court Judge Edward C. Prado made it clear that “unequal education is a matter of great concern and must be eradicated.” But he said the TAAS test helps identify and address educational inequalities by providing administrators, schools, and teachers with negative consequences not only for poor overall school performance, but also for poor performance of students in disaggregated ethnic subgroups.

“The results of the TAAS test are used, in many cases, to motivate not only students but schools and teachers to raise and meet educational standards,” he noted.

Prado’s view is confirmed by the long-term trend of passing rates for tenth-grade TAAS tests. Passing rates for all students in all ethnic groups have increased substantially since the test was instituted in 1994. In addition, the gap in passing rates between the best-achieving ethnic group and others has narrowed significantly over the same time period.

In 1994, 50 percent of all students failed to meet minimum standards across all tests, but by 1999 the overall passing rate was 75 percent. In fact, by 1999 the passing rate for Hispanic students was the same as the passing rate for white students in 1994, with the passing rates for economically disadvantaged and African-American students only 2 to 4 points behind.

While much remains to be done to narrow the achievement gap between white students and others, Texas reduced the gap by one-quarter to one-third in just five years, between 1994 and 1999. Initially, Hispanic students were 30 points behind whites in passing rates on all tenth-grade TAAS tests, but this gap was reduced to 22 points by 1999. Although the achievement gap for African-American students has narrowed the most–10 points–this ethnic group still has the most distance to go–26 points–to match the white students’ passing rate of 86 percent.

“An entire generation of Texans has graduated from high school under this requirement, and I believe this has proven to be a reform that works,” said Texas Education Commissioner Jim Nelson.