The Texas Education Agency announced on Wednesday that fewer than half of Texas schools met yearly requirements set by the federal government under the No Child Left Behind Act.
In a press release, the agency said heightened federal standards this year are the reason that only 44 percent of Texas campuses achieved the goal of an 87 percent passing rate for reading and an 83 percent passing rate for math on state standardized tests. Sixty-six percent of Texas schools met the federal requirements last year, when the passing rate goals were 80 percent for reading and 75 percent for math.
The announcement comes as the state transitions to a new, more rigorous statewide assessment system and grapples with several lawsuits over how it finances public schools. Those lawsuits follow the Legislature's decision last session to reduce state funding to public education by more than $5 billion.
No Child Left Behind dictates that passing rates must be at 100 percent for both subjects by 2014.
Wednesday's results have prompted swift reaction from the education community and other interest groups, most of it criticizing the No Child Left Behind Act.
"Members of Congress and the Department of Education readily admit that the current NCLB requirements ... ask too much of students too quickly," Johnny Veselka, the executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, folks in Washington have neglected to make any changes and are moving forward with a flawed system that is setting up students, schools and states to fail."
Linda Bridges, the president of the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers, defended the performance of the state's schools, saying that in "more trustworthy measures" like the National Assessment of Educational Progress, students "have been doing far better" than the NCLB results imply — "even though more than 800,000 additional high-need, economically disadvantaged students have enrolled in Texas public schools since NCLB took effect."
But at least one group — the Texas Association of Business — greeted Wednesday's report as a call for improvement in schools.
"These results will force schools to take a look at where their weaknesses are and come up with plans to address those weaknesses," Bill Hammond, the organization's president and CEO, said in a statement. "I think that will improve education in the long run. Without a strong accountability system that kind of improvement would never happen.”
School districts or campuses that receive federal funds and fall below NCLB requirements for the same reason two years in a row are placed in Stage 1 of the School Improvement Program. If a school continues to miss the requirements, it is put in a higher stage, up to Stage 5. The higher the stage, the more severe the punishment.
In Texas, 84 percent of federally funded schools that failed to meet the requirements are in Stage 1, meaning they will have to offer students the option to transfer to a school that did meet the requirements and write a campus improvement plan. The 16 percent that are in stages 2 through 5 face tougher penalties, which can rise to the level of a TEA takeover of the school, the replacement of all school staff or ceding operation of the school to a private company.