Almost 99 percent of Texas schools are rated “Academically Acceptable” or better by the Texas Education Agency. Does this mean that public schools are doing an acceptable job?

A majority of schools are doing well. But it does no favor to children attending less stellar schools to hide the fact that some “Acceptable” schools are truly low performing, particularly given the challenges students face at graduation.

For example, Central High School in Beaumont is rated “Academically Acceptable,” yet only 27 percent of its students passed all tests in the 2003-2004 school year, compared to the state average of 68 percent. Almost 40 percent of its 9th graders dropped out before graduation. The most highly educated students in the 2003 graduating class posted a mean SAT score of 772 – 200 points below the state average and 250 points below the national average.

This is not “Acceptable,” it’s intolerable.

How can “Acceptable” ratings mask such poorly performing schools in Texas? The answer lies in low expectations for student achievement. To earn an “Acceptable” rating, the state’s education accountability system only requires 25 percent of a school’s students to pass state science assessments, 35 percent to pass mathematics, and 50 percent to pass reading, writing, social studies, and English Language Arts.

Certain “educators” are pressing State Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley to keep these low standards in place for 2005 and are fighting against raising them a mere 10 points for 2006. They must think that it’s “acceptable” to have 75 percent of the students in a school fail the science test and 65 percent of the students fail the math test.

Our message to them is simple: colleges won’t find this performance acceptable, nor will parents or employers.

On behalf of our children, the legislature should ensure that House Bill 2, or the Senate’s version of the education bill, require:

  • schools to achieve at least a 60 percent passage rate to be considered “Acceptable;”
  • the Texas Education Agency to provide concentrated and research based assistance for the bottom 10 percent of Texas schools; and
  • persistently failing schools to be re-organized with the effective management required to achieve student success.

    If we are to ensure all children have the opportunity to attend good schools, it is imperative to confront unacceptably low standards. Low standards stand in the way of improving public education.

    The legislature must adopt standards to make all schools truly acceptable, if not better.

    Mr. Kress is an advisor to Texas Businesses for Educational Excellence; Mrs. Patterson is director of research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Both have served as advisors to the Governor’s Business Council on education reform issues.