Leaving Children Behind, How “Texas-style” Accountability Fails Latino Youth
reviewed by Maria Carreira - 2005
Leaving Children Behind, How “Texas-style” Accountability Fails Latino Youth
Angela Valenzuela (Editor)
State University of New York Press, Albany
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School accountability as currently practiced in Texas is failing Latino children and is diminishing the quality of education in countless schools in Texas and elsewhere: That is the powerful thesis of Leaving Children Behind: How Texas-Style Accountability Fails Latino Youth. The 10 essays that this work comprises constitute a well-coordinated frontal assault on Texas-style accountability, a performance-based model in which all decisions regarding a students promotion and/or graduation are based on the outcome of a single standardized test. The contributors to this collection argue that far from being an issue that affects only one states minority population, Texas-style accountability is at the center of an ongoing national debate about the future of the American system of education. What happens in Texasor more precisely, how what happens in Texas is viewed in the court of public opinionwill chart the future course of public policy in critical areas of education pertaining to minority and immigrant children, privatization, and accountability in schools nationwide.
Angela Valenzuelas introductory essay situates the book against the backdrop of the accountability debate in Texas. This debate, as Valenzuela carefully points out, is not about whether schools should be held accountable, but rather about what model of accountability best meets the educational needs of all children. The chapter offers an excellent preview of the pathologies of the Texas model of accountability, of which there are four main types: (a) those stemming from the models underlying assumptions, (b) those pertaining to its impact on Latino/minority children and the schools they attend, (c) those involving teacher credentialing, and (d) those concerning the models philosophical and political underpinnings.
Chapter 2, Performance-Based School Reforms and the Federal Role in Helping Schools That Serve Language-Minority Students, deals with the first type of pathology. In it, Jorge Ruiz de Velasco challenges a central premise of performance-based reforms, namely, that schools are adequately equipped to help language-minority children meet grade-level expectations. Without this, it is difficult to justify holding struggling students accountable for poor academic performance. In fact, most schools lack the resources, know-how, and organizational structure to meet their goal of helping these students. De Velasco proposes a twofold solution: (a) holding state and district leaders accountable for creating the conditions for language-minority students to succeed in school and (b) increasing federal funding for educational initiatives with a focus on minority children.
Focusing on the second type of pathology, the next five chapters paint a remarkably consistent and alarming picture of how Texas-style accountability hurts Latino/minority children and drives down the quality of education in schools. In chapter 3, Faking Equity: High-Stakes Testing and the Education of Latino Youth, Linda McSpadden McNeil makes the case that educational achievement is actually declining in Texas, despite a recent rise in scores in the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), the signature test of the states model of accountability. According to McSpadden McNeil, rising TAAS scores are the result of a variety of manipulations by teachers and administrators that boost their performance ratings at the expense of their minority students. These include teaching to the test, instituting a waiver system that exempts struggling students from taking the TAAS at intermediate points in their education (thus inflating school performance indices), and encouraging underperforming students to drop out of school altogether. In chapter 4, Texas Second Wave of High Stakes Testing: Anti-Social Promotion Legislation, Grade Retention, and Adverse Impact on Minorities, Richard Valencia and Bruno Villarreal show that minority children are more likely to be held back a grade, fail the TAAS, and drop out of school. However, as in chapter 2, the weight of the evidence suggests that these outcomes arise from systemic failures on the part of schools, rather than from the shortcomings of minority students. In Playing to the Logic of the Texas Accountability System: How Focusing on RatingsNot ChildrenUndermines Quality and Equity (chapter 5), Kris Slogan echoes McSpadden-McNeils argument in chapter 3 by documenting how a shift from child-centered to ratings-centered reform in a particular Texas school has harmed children even as TAAS scores for this school have risen. Teacher interviews and class observations point to an erosion of teacher-student relationships and to the adoption of a view of minority children as liabilities in the race to improve scores. Elaine Hamptons Standardized or Sterilized? Different Perspectives on the Effects of High-Stakes Testing in West Texas (chapter 6) examines the impact of high-stakes testing from the perspective of teachers and administrators in the Ysleta School District in El Paso. Among the most disturbing findings is the tyranny of the 70th percentile, or the practice of narrowing instruction to reach students who are performing at or near the passing mark for the TAAS. In chapter 7, Californias English-Only Policies: An Analysis of Initial Effects, Laura Alamillo, Deborah Palmer, Celia Viramontes, and Eugene García show that the detrimental effects of high-stakes testing and English-only policies in California are strikingly similar to those in Texas. This raises disturbing questions about the future of this countrys Latino children, given that half of U.S. Latinos live in California and Texas.
In a chapter concerning pathologies in the teacher credentialing process, The Centurion: Standards and High-Stakes Testing as Gatekeepers for Bilingual Teacher Candidates in the New Century (chapter 8), Belinda Bustos Flores and Ellen Riojas Clark argue that state-mandated teacher credentialing tests prevent Latinos with the potential to become good teachers from entering the teaching profession. Ironically, this is occurring at a time when school districts across the country face a critical shortage of teachers in general and Latino teachers in particular.
In the area of philosophical pathologies, the final two chapters focus on the value systems and viewpoints underlying the Texas model of accountability. High-Stakes Testing and Educational Accountability as Social Constructions Across Cultures (chapter 9) by Raymond Padilla makes a distinction between the culture of measurement, upon which Texas-style accountability is based, and the culture of engagement. The author argues that the measurement culture fails to ascribe value to community relationships and contextualized learning, two core elements of the education of minority children. Padilla argues instead for a culture of engagement, in which the responsibility for the success of minority children is shared by both schools and the community. The book closes with a look by Valenzuela at the politics behind Texass educational reforms. Accountability and the Privatization Agenda argues that the Texas model of accountability is bound up with the agenda to privatize public education. This agenda, Valenzuela warns, is more about the politics of control over public education than it is about childrens learning and wellbeing (p. 27).
This volumes main strengths lie in the across-the-board quality of the individual chapters, its comprehensive and well-coordinated coverage of the subject matter, and its accessible language and presentation style. That said, the book would have benefited from a chapter-length treatment of alternative models of accountability. In addition, an overview of Latino demographics in Texas and the United States would have served well to highlight the magnitude of the developing crisis. All in all, however, Leaving Children Behind is an excellent contribution to the field and a must read for educators, parents, and policymakers who are entrusted with the future of Latino children.