IN NOVEMBER WE PUBLISHED A RANKING of 3,172 public grade schools in Texas, giving each school one of five grades, from four stars (the best) to no stars (the worst). This article provoked an unusual amount of mail. Some of the letters were barely restrained victory whoops from people connected with high-ranking schools. However, unsurprisingly, our mail proved that not everyone agreed with our rankings.
Most of the disagreements criticized our reliance on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills ( TAAS). This test is currently given each spring to students in grades three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and ten. Our ranking awarded stars based on a formula that compared an elementary school’s TAAS scores with those from other elementary schools across the state that had a similar percentage of students from poor households. Few complained about our grouping schools by economic status, but many complained about the TAAS, and their letters were filled with emotion. One of the many impassioned letters came from Donna Trevino, a teacher from Wichita Falls, who wrote, “It’s time we admit that the TAAS is not performing the function it was meant to perform and start to wake up to the fact that the TAAS, an assessment tool for rating teachers, puts undue pressure on our children, who have ‘Ace the TAAS’ beaten into their heads a full eight months of the year, who are bribed with gifts of candy, toys, and field trips to perform well on the test, and who are being taught test-taking skills before or even instead of anything of real value.”
David Cross was more analytical, as befits the chair of the psychology department at Texas Christian University: “First, the tests do nothing for capable students (my children routinely pass all or nearly all of the items—what’s the use?). Second, the tests are representative of nothing children will do when they