Texas education commissioner’s new plan to close racial achievement gap

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(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Michael Williams, Texas’ new education commissioner, is planning to implement a rating system that takes the achievement gap among poor and minority students into account when measuring schools’ performances.

According to the Associated Press, Texas schools are currently rated by their students’ performances on standardized tests, but some school officials complain this approach is an all-or-nothing program which labels schools “academically unacceptable” if they fail in one area.

Under Williams’ rating system, which he plans to begin by March 2013, schools would be ranked by four indicators: student progress, student achievement, student post-graduation preparedness and progress in closing the achievement gap. He said he would give more weight to the achievement gap than the other indicators.

“In a state that is 60 percent economically disadvantaged and 60 percent black and brown, we’ve got to be concerned about closing that racial achievement gap because indeed our demographics are changing,” Williams told the State Board of Education on Thursday.

The Texas Education Agency reports that 92 percent of white students graduated on time in 2011. In comparison, only 82 percent of Latino students, 81 percent of black students and 84 percent of economically-disadvantaged students graduated in four years.

Williams said he’s confident that schools would be able to meet the challenge of the new system.

Williams became the first African-American to lead the Texas Education Agency when he was appointed by Governor Rick Perry in August.

“Whenever you have a first, it’s always celebrated — whatever that first is,” Lawrence Allen Jr., one of two African American members on the State Board of Education, told The Houston Chronicle back in August. “He will be an inspiration to minority children because they normally don’t look at these offices as ones that can be obtained.”

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