Gov. Greg Abbott, who’s vowed to make the Texas education system No. 1 in the country, told lawmakers that some Dallas students already lead the pack.
In his February 2015 State of the State address, Abbott hammered his goal again, saying: "As we look to some of these challenges, the way I see is that our journey begins with striving to create the best education system in America.
"We’ve seen that we can do it," Abbott said. "In Dallas, for example, African-American and Hispanic students pass AP exams at a higher rate than any other place in America."
AP, as in advanced placement, tests are offered through the nonprofit College Board. Exam scores of thre or higher, on a five-point scale, qualify students for college credit.
We sought to learn the basis of Abbott’s Dallas declaration.
Abbott's office did not engage. But responding by email, a spokesman for the Dallas school district, André Riley, referred us to research by the Dallas-based National Math and Science Initiative based on data provided by the district. Riley noted an October 2014 initiative press release stating that according to AP test results in 2013-14, "a minority student in Dallas is more than twice as likely to earn a qualifying score on an AP math or science exam than in any other large urban school district in the country."
That’s not any other place, which is what Abbott said, though it’s close to any comparably populous place. It’s also not a ranking that takes into account all the AP subject-matter exams, unlike what Abbott said.
According to the release, the Dallas district was the first in the nation to partner with the initiative "in its effort to raise academic rigor and increase the number of students who graduate from high school college-ready." Since 2008, the release said, the initiative’s College Readiness Program has been implemented in more than 620 schools across 26 states.
The release said the initiative’s funding, which covers stipends for teacher training plus AP-related equipment and supplies, was provided by the Texas Instruments Foundation and the O’Donnell Foundation.
Separately, a January 2015 news story by KERA, a Dallas public radio station, said the initiative, which has worked with Dallas students since 1996, "offers Saturday study sessions, pays the hefty exam fees for students, gathers teachers together for professional development and even gives teachers better books or lesson plans if they need them." And, the story said, the initiative offers cash for success, giving $100 to each student who passes a math, science or English exam, and $100 to the teacher for each passing student. Generally, the story said, the intent was to prime students for jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Seeking elaboration, we contacted the initiative; spokeswoman Tara Marathe said by email the initiative reached its conclusion about Dallas minority students by comparing 2013-14 results for African American and Hispanic students in Dallas to results on the math, science and English AP exams for such students in similarly large districts with comparable shares of low-income and African American and Hispanic students. Marathe said the upshot was that an African American or Hispanic student in Dallas appeared twice as likely to earn a qualifying score on an AP math or science exam as a minority student in similar large urban districts.
Specifically, Marathe said, districts chosen for the comparisons had to have at least half the Dallas district’s total African-American and Hispanic high school juniors and seniors (about 7,500 or more); be at least 75 percent Hispanic and African-American as a whole; and have 75 percent of students qualifying for free- and reduced-price lunches.
"There were 15,194 junior and senior African-American and Hispanic students in Dallas in 2013-14, who earned 948 passing AP math and science scores," Marathe wrote. "This rate of 62 minority passing exams per 1,000 minority juniors and seniors is more than twice what we see in similar urban districts."
Marathe said the initiative’s agreements with the College Board "prevent us" from sharing detailed data for other districts. But she said the comparison swept in public schools in Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, San Diego, Louisville and San Antonio.
Next, we asked the College Board if it had confirmed the Dallas-above-all ranking. By email, spokesman Zach Goldberg said the initiative is a partner with the board "and we have no reason to doubt what they have provided."
Wondering if Abbott’s mention of the Dallas students outscoring peers from "any place in America" might hold up just for math and science results, we applied the initiative’s methodology to a couple other Texas districts, drawing enrollment data from a Texas Education Agency website. By our calculations, the Dallas district’s result of 62 minority passing exams per 1,000 minority juniors and seniors ran behind the 83 passing exams per 1,000 minority juniors and seniors in the Round Rock school district. The Dallas result ran ahead of the 34 passing exams per 1,000 minority juniors and seniors in the Austin district.
Abbott said Dallas "African-American and Hispanic students pass AP exams at a higher rate than any other place in America."
That’s an overly broad recap of research indicating that such students in Dallas passed math and science AP exams at a better clip than peers in more than 15 districts nationally with like demographics. This conclusion, that is, didn’t sweep in every AP test nor did it extend to the Dallas students outpacing students everywhere else.
On balance, we rate Abbott’s statement Half True.
HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.