Over the past two decades, Texas’ graduation rate has been steadily inching upward. Even the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), which paints a much grimmer picture of Texas’ dropout and graduation rates than does the Texas Education Agency, acknowledges that we’ve made strides in student retention and success.

Now there’s a question of whether Texas’ new STAAR exams, which are high stakes tests students must pass to graduate, could impact our graduation rate. Current results on the mandatory tests, per the Dallas Morning News, are not good:

  • English I reading: 32 percent
  • English I writing: 45 percent
  • English II reading: 18 percent
  • English II writing: 39 percent
  • Algebra I: 20 percent
  • Biology: 13 percent

Unfortunately, it’s probably still too early to say how much weight we should put behind these numbers. The STAAR tests are new, and more rigorous than their predecessor, the TAKS test. That there would be an adjustment period to the new exams is a reasonable assumption.

Just the same, we should not ignore these results, and more importantly, we should not misuse the information. Many Texas students are clearly struggling in a traditional, public school classroom. The education establishment has made the argument, both in the public sphere and the court room, that our schools need more money and a reduction in high stakes testing.

Of course, the other side of that coin is that maybe traditional public school classrooms are not the best learning environment for every student in the Texas education system. We educate our students with a one-size-fits-all model; unless a student comes from a family that has the resources and time to locate and send their child to a school that better suits the child’s educational needs than the public school the child is physically zoned for, then the child is stuck there. And, by extension, the student has to pass their tests there. If the child doesn’t, they may not graduate.

Texas has a history of dealing with problems in our public education system by putting money toward the problem. Doing so has not fixed the areas in which we struggle. These test results, while they may yet improve (students have an opportunity to re-take last spring’s STAAR exams this December), indicate that at present, we have a lot of students that could be receiving an education better for them than the one they’re currently getting. That’s not an indictment of our public schools; it’s a reality that not every student learns the same way.

Reforms that put Texas students first, which is to say, choice based reforms that let families put their children in a learning environment that’s best for them, are long overdue. The latest STAAR results are above all else yet another indicator that one size does not, in fact, fit all. Let’s start looking at Texas education reform beyond tweaks to the funding and testing systems. Let’s put students first.