[ProgressiveEd] NYTimes.com Article: For Houston Schools, College Claims Exceed Reality

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Thu, 28 Aug 2003 08:33:31 -0400 (EDT)

This article from NYTimes.com 
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It seems that Houston schools lied about more than just standardized test results. I am saddened by the disrespectful way their students have been treated.
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For Houston Schools, College Claims Exceed Reality
August 28, 2003
HOUSTON - At Jack Yates High School here, students had to
make do without a school library for more than a year. A
principal replaced dozens of experienced teachers with
substitutes and uncertified teachers, who cost less. 
And yet from 1998 to 2002, Yates High reported that 99
percent to 100 percent of its graduates planned to attend
Across town, Davis High School, where students averaged a
combined SAT score of 791 out of a possible 1600 in 1998,
reported that every last one of its graduates that year
planned to go to college. 
Sharpstown High School, a high poverty school that falsely
claimed zero dropouts in 2002, also reported in 2001 that
98.4 percent of its graduates expected to attend college. 
"Absolutely, positively, no way," said Larry Blackmon, a
Yates parent and alumnus who knows graduates without the
means or plans to go to college. "You'd get more of an
accurate count asking elementary kids if they plan to go to
The glowing figures on students who plan to further their
education are part of a broad set of statistics Houston
school officials submitted to state authorities, figures
that painted a wildly optimistic picture of what has been
going on in Houston schools over the past few years. 
A recent state audit of the Houston schools found vast
undercounting of high school dropouts. The figures on
college plans suggest that on yet a second measure, Houston
put forth data that bear small relation to the hard reality
most students face. 
The college data, unlike the dropout data, does not affect
the Houston school system's performance rankings. It is
used largely for research purposes. But critics say that
like the dropout data, it reflects a tendency to inflate
success by the system that sent Rod Paige, its former
superintendent, to Washington, where, as education
secretary, he is now the nation's top school officer. 
At Davis High, for instance, comparison with test scores
and records from the Higher Education Coordinating Board,
which tracks students who enroll in public colleges and
universities in Texas, suggested that not 100 percent, but
less than half of Davis's 1998 graduates enrolled in the
state's two- or four-year institutions of higher education,
which generally absorb the great majority of college-bound
graduates, particularly from poorer high schools. 
In a written statement, Terry Abbott, a spokesman for the
Houston school district, refused to explain the high
numbers of students reported to be planning to go to
college and said only that the figures came from "surveys
of students." Requests for interviews with principals and
with Kaye Stripling, the current superintendent, were
refused. Dr. Paige also declined to answer questions. 
Some former principals in Houston said they did not know
why the data was collected, while others thought,
mistakenly, that it was used by parents shopping for
schools for their children. Given the emphasis here on
judging school performance by statistics, principals said,
underlings most likely made up the figures to look good -
without fully understanding their use. 
"I'm very skeptical of 99 to 100 percent," said Robert F.
Worthy, who stepped down as principal of Yates this spring,
after four years. "In fact, I'm almost certain we didn't
have those numbers." 
Another former principal, who asked not to be identified
for fear of reprisals, contended that lower-level
administrators inflated their figures in the hope of
attracting the children of active, involved parents. More
students also mean more money from the state. On paper, her
school claimed that almost all of its graduates were headed
for college. In fact, the principal said, most of them
"couldn't spell college, let alone attend." 
Not all schools submitted numbers that strain credibility,
and some have put forth more modest estimates after years
of sky-high claims. 
Parent advocacy groups contend that the district's
statistics on college plans - however they are gathered -
should rely on some indicator, like transcripts requested
or students taking college entrance exams, to have any
But George Scott, an online education columnist who has
written widely about Texas, said the soaring numbers were
no accident. He said claims that most students planned to
attend college were of a piece with another claim the state
makes - that the majority of Texas high school graduates
are ready for college-level work. 
"Why would any self-respecting person allow this to go out
when it's clearly not true?" Mr. Scott said. 
To gauge the disparity between the portrait painted by
Houston and the reality graduates face, The New York Times
compared the district's figures on college plans with test
scores and state data on college enrollment. 
While Yates, for example, said all of its graduates in 2000
planned to attend college, only a third of its seniors took
the state's most popular college entrance exam, the SAT,
reaching a combined average score of 763. According to the
state's Higher Education Coordinating Board, fewer than 50
percent of Yates's graduates that year took any credits at
state colleges or universities. 
Matthew Rivera, a 1999 graduate of Worthing High School
here, said that most of his classmates probably hoped to
attend college. But for many of them, the encounter with
higher education proved brutal. 
"Getting into college is not hard at all," Mr. Rivera said.
"Staying in is hard." Mr. Rivera and two of his friends,
Worthing classmates, began college in 1999. Only one
graduated this spring. 
A look at scores on tests other than the Texas Assessment
of Academic Skills suggests that Mr. Rivera and his friends
were not alone in their lack of preparation. 
The year they graduated, the average combined SAT score of
Worthing's seniors was 794. When in the 11th grade, the
class of '99 scored in the bottom 40 percent of students
nationally on the Stanford 9 achievement test in virtually
all subjects . 
According to state figures, 143 graduates from Worthing's
class of 1999 enrolled in public colleges or universities
in Texas; 166 did not. That year, however, Houston reported
that 95 percent of Worthing's students planned to go to
Mr. Rivera plans to attend vocational courses in radiology
this fall, which he hopes will help him land stable
employment at a decent salary. He now holds down three
jobs, one as a waiter. 
Ashleigh Blackmon, a graduate of Yates in 2002, said she
did not for a moment believe all her classmates were
planning on college but was not sure her school's claims
did any harm. 
"It doesn't mean anything, because who cares?" she said,
and then paused. "But it could mean they lie about a lot
more of other things." 
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