Good piece yesterday by Matt Haag on The Dallas Morning News education blog reporting that fewer public school seniors received at least a 990 score -- that's the number that means a student is "college ready" -- on the SAT exam, reflecting school Superintendent Mike Miles' push to have more kids tested. Among the many interesting numbers included in Haag's report, I only wish he had thought to give us the district-wide average SAT score, but I have a question in to the district's hard-working communications staff, and I will let you know as soon as I hear from them.
Here is my bit. Miles has been telling us for a year that his initiative to have more kids take the SAT will produce lower average SAT scores. Turns out he was right. In terms of the district-wide averages, he got what he was going for.
He wants lower scores? No, he wants a more rigorous picture of what the district is teaching its students. The SAT is one of several national tests that can give us at least a snapshot of what students know at the end of a 12-year DISD career compared with what kids know elsewhere. Because the state tests and local tests are so extremely susceptible to political pressure, the national tests serve as a welcome dose of truth serum. So Miles is telling us that the bitter truth is better than a buttered up falsehood.
Secondly, please remember that Miles' critics have been on a two-year jihad accusing him of driving students out of the district in order to raise test scores. It was always a crazy assertion, basically that school principals, on orders from above, were calling in families and telling them to get their kids out of the district. Strangely, not a single family ever emerged to say such a thing had happened to them, reducing the entire disappearing families narrative to the level of a really boring zombie movie.
But retired school teacher Bill Betzen, with backing from UT Austin Education School professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, kept making the case that Miles had a secret under-the-radar mechanism for forcing families to leave the school district so that their low-scoring kids wouldn't be around to pollute Miles' test score averages.
Again, the charge was never remotely credible, and neither Betzen nor Vasquez Heilig ever offered persuasive evidence. In fact when I asked Betzen to tell me what hard evidence he had to support the charge, he said, "I only have that secondhand. It is only allegations." When another person took Vasquez Heilig to task, he wrote back, "Please do not send me another threatening email, or I will refer this matter to the police."
I guess that would have been a charge of "insulting my integrity." Only in ed school academe.
So let's mark this moment, OK? Rather than institute testing policies designed to inflate scores falsely, Miles has instituted policies intended to bring the scores back down where they belong -- to deflate the scores, in other words. If you compare Dallas with other major Texas cities, Miles' move looks especially courageous.
Using Texas Education Agency data, I looked at six Texas cities yesterday. Last year, in the most recent available information, Dallas was second to last among those six in district-wide average SAT scores. The averages were Austin 1014, Houston 915, Fort Worth 905, Brownsville 904, Dallas 863, San Antonio 828.
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But Dallas last year had the highest percentage among those six cities of senior students who took the SAT. The percentages who took the test were Dallas 78.8, Austin 77.7, Houston 75.2, Fort Worth 64, San Antonio 60.5, Brownsville 41.3. Looked at another way, Miles had the smallest pool of non-test-takers.
So here is how I read that: Of superintendents in those six cities, Miles had the most to lose by expanding his pool of senior test-takers. With the rate of test-takers already at the high end, the only place to go to expand the pool was straight into the low end of the achievement spectrum.
Did it anyway. Worth noting. It doesn't merely make Betzen and Vasquez-Heilig wrong. It turns their accusation into unsubstantiated character assassination. Some day it would be awfully nice to hear some acknowledgement of error from one or both of them.
UPDATE: Commenter Mike Dryden below is correct in saying that I have used an obsolete database for the SAT scores above. By directing me to the right one, he has enabled me to offer the following corrected numbers: the correct 2012 SAT participation rates according to the TEA are Houston 99.8%, Dallas 77%, Austin 72.3%, San Antonio 62.8%, Brownsville 51.6%. The average SAT scores for 2012 were Austin 1496, Brownsville 1289, Dallas 1272, Houston 1253, San Antonio 1217.