What Do Test Scores in Texas Tell Us?


  • Stephen P. Klein et al RAND
  • Laura Hamilton RAND
  • Daniel F. McCaffrey RAND
  • Brian Stecher RAND




Achievement Gains, Achievement Tests, Elementary Education, Elementary School Students, Junior High School Students, Junior High Schools, National Surveys, Standardized Tests, State Programs, Test Use, Testing Programs


We examine the results on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), the highest-profile state testing program and one that has recorded extraordinary recent gains in math and reading scores. To investigate whether the dramatic math and reading gains on the TAAS represent actual academic progress, we have compared these gains to score changes in Texas on another test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Texas students did improve significantly more on a fourth-grade NAEP math test than their counterparts nationally. But, the size of this gain was smaller than their gains on TAAS and was not present on the eighth-grade math test. The stark differences between the stories told by NAEP and TAAS are especially striking when it comes to the gap in average scores between whites and students of color. According to the NAEP results, that gap in Texas is not only very large but increasing slightly. According to TAAS scores, the gap is much smaller and decreasing greatly. Many schools are devoting a great deal of class time to highly specific TAAS preparation. While this preparation may improve TAAS scores, it may not help students develop necessary reading and math skills. Schools with relatively large percentages of minority and poor students may be doing this more than other schools. We raise serious questions about the validity of those gains, and caution against the danger of making decisions to sanction or reward students, teachers and schools on the basis of test scores that may be inflated or misleading. Finally, we suggest some steps that states can take to increase the likelihood that their test results merit public confidence and provide a sound basis for educational policy.


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Author Biographies

Stephen P. Klein et al, RAND

Dr. Stephen P. Klein is a Senior Research Scientist at RAND, where for the past 25 years he has led studies on health, criminal justice, military manpower, and educational issues. His current projects include analyzing licensing examinations in teaching and other professions, delivering computer adaptive performance tests over the Web, and measuring the effects of instructional practices and curriculum on student performance.

Laura Hamilton, RAND

Dr. Laura Hamilton is an Associate Behavioral Scientist at RAND where she conducts research on educational assessment and the effectiveness of educational reform programs. Her current projects include a study of systemic reforms in math and science, an investigation of the validity of statewide assessments for students with disabilities, and an analysis of the effectiveness of private governance of public schools.

Daniel F. McCaffrey, RAND

Dr. Daniel F. McCaffrey is a Statistician at RAND where he works on studies of health and educational issues. His work on education includes studies on teaching practices and student achievement, the effects of class size reduction on the test scores of California's students, and the properties of hands-on performance measure of achievement in science.

Brian Stecher, RAND

Dr. Brian Stecher is a Senior Social Scientist in the Education program at RAND. Dr. Stecher's research emphasis is applied educational measurement, including the implementation, quality, and impact of state assessment and accountability systems and the cost, quality, and feasibility of performance-based assessments in mathematics and science.




How to Cite

Klein et al, S. P., Hamilton, L., McCaffrey, D. F., & Stecher, B. (2000). What Do Test Scores in Texas Tell Us?. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8, 49. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.v8n49.2000