THERE ARE THOSE WHO ARGUE THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to compare schools—that each one is unique, and that the important lessons students learn, about themselves and about life, cannot be measured, certainly not by any test. We disagree. The fundamental job of an elementary school is to teach kids to read, write, and compute, and those skills can be tested. Education is so important, and the sums the state spends on it are so vast, that measuring the success or failure of each school is a necessity. There is no other way to hold schools accountable for their performance.
The following list rates 3,172 of the elementary schools in Texas. The rating system is based on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills ( TAAS) test, the one consistent, uniform statewide measure of what students are learning. Several hundred schools were excluded from the ratings because they tested fewer than fifty students or contained only one or two grades and thus did not meet the Texas Education Agency’s definition of an elementary school. But TAAS scores alone do not tell us much about how good a job a school is doing. To compare a suburban school with an inner-city school, even in the same area, is to compare apples and oranges. A good rating system has to compare a school with others whose students have similar characteristics.
This rating system, developed by Darvin M. Winick of the Center for Houston’s Future (an affiliate of the Greater Houston Partnership) and Larry Toenjes, a University of Houston sociologist, is based on two numbers—the percentage of children who passed all sections of the TAAS test and the percentage of kids on the free- or assisted-lunch program. The latter number is an accurate reflection of how many students in the school come from backgrounds of poverty. These students are generally at