Texas educational accountability: Why it matters

Across the board, the Texas public education system is in crisis. This week’s national assessment results are lower than they have been in a generation. But while the pandemic certainly had an impact, Texas’ scores have been declining since the early 2010s. As it stands today, 60% of Texas students cannot do math on grade level according to our state test. On national assessments, less than a quarter of Texas 8th graders are proficient in math.  This is an urgent moment that we cannot ignore.

Math achievement in particular is critical because it is closely correlated with success in higher education and employability in critical and fast-growing fields. We need billions of dollars more investment in public education by the Legislature so that we can pay our teachers more, resource higher-need students and schools, and support all students academically.

Texans agree.

Public education was the top priority of Texas voters when asked in our latest statewide poll how the Texas Legislature should invest the current budget surplus. And by wide margins, Texas voters support paying teachers more, both across the board and based on merit. In return,
Texans deserve to know how their public schools are performing, and that their increased investment results in better outcomes for students.

Unfortunately, there is a concerted movement to reduce Texas’ ability to monitor how its public schools are performing. A series of proposals have been floated that would reduce Texas’ graduation requirements, eliminate all state testing in American history, and reduce the importance of student outcomes in our school accountability system, swapping in non-academic and extracurricular activities.

Texas education accountability should not be a participation trophy. We must continue to hold our students and schools to high standards. – Margaret Spellings, Texas 2036 President and CEO

These proposals do not provide transparency or accountability for parents, taxpayers, or businesses that will employ future graduates. They turn state education accountability into participation trophies, allowing districts to pick and choose non-academic measures upon which
to grade themselves. And they explicitly deemphasize student learning in the fundamentals of reading and math. Employers care more about young people’s ability to read and do math than whether they were in chess club or on student council.

Under the guise of capturing what a school contributes to a community, these proposals would include activities like band or lacrosse in the school accountability system that would measure things that many districts pay for with discretionary or outside funding. Instead of focusing on equity, the state would evaluate schools on fundamentally inequitable indicators that are biased toward affluent school districts. Simultaneously, this would deemphasize the current A-F school rating system’s focus on closing gaps in academic achievement between students of different racial or income backgrounds.

It is ironic that one of the proposals is the elimination of all state history assessments given that these proposals represent failed ideas that ignore the hard-learned lessons of the past.

In the 1980s, Texas pioneered a rigorous accountability and assessment system that led to the state’s first improvement in college entrance exam scores in 30 years and led the nation in using data to improve the educational outcomes of underperforming minority and ethnic groups – a revolutionary concept at the time.

Beginning in the 2000s, our state gave in to demands for less rigorous accountability and assessment systems, planting the seeds for an academic freefall that state leaders have recently begun tackling head-on. Now those proposals are back to water standards down again.
Texas needs to hold the line on recent education reforms, invest more in the public school system, and continue to hold our students and schools to high standards. That’s a recipe Texans can rally behind and trust that they’ll get a return on their investment.


Margaret Spellings is the former U.S. secretary of education and current CEO of Texas 2036, a nonprofit organization building long-term, data-driven strategies to secure Texas’ prosperity through our state’s bicentennial and beyond. This piece first appeared in the Dallas Morning News.