A State's Fix-It Plan for Schools Interview / Texas Gov. George W. Bush
Gail Russell Chaddock, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Texas has won national acclaim for how quickly it has improved student achievement, especially among black and Hispanic students. It is the lone state to hold schools accountable for showing that all groups of students are learning up to state standards.
But critics say the Texas Assessment of Academic Standards (TAAS) is too easy a test, and that large achievement gaps persist between white students and the state's black and Hispanic majority.
Last week Gov. George W. Bush (R) spoke with the Monitor about his efforts to improve the system. Excerpts follow: On the need for an accountability system: You don't know if you don't measure. Measuring allows a state to say thanks to those who are succeeding and to say to those who are failing: Change. We're using the accountability system to end social promotion, or to put it another way, to make sure that people get extra help or extra time on task, as needed, to be sure that no one gets left behind. That's why we have a bar in the first place. On criticism that Texas set the bar too low: The important thing is to have a bar. Ultimately, you want the bar to be as high as it can be. We are continuing to raise the bar. We started very low, and now we're moving it up year by year. On labeling a school "exemplary," while many students only perform marginally on national tests: It's important to be straightforward. And if children are having trouble meeting standards, we need to say that. The labels attached to schools ought to be transparent. We ought to address that. On reports of cheating on state tests: People who hedge, cheat - fudge on the accountability system - do the children a disservice. What we're interested in is children learning, and any administration that wants to hide reality needs to be exposed and punished. We just had a case in Austin on this issue. The accountability system has got to be able to say, "We're not meeting expectations, therefore, let's adjust." If we don't know that the system needs to be adjusted because somebody is fudging on the exam, then action needs to be taken. So yes, my office has sent word to the commissioner of education that we want to blow the whistle on cheating. On criticism that the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills is getting easier: I haven't heard criticism that the TAAS test is easy. I've heard the criticism that the TAAS test is racist or that the TAAS test is too much government. …