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I am a staunch believer in local control; I am a staunch believer in public education; I am a staunch believer in public accountability; and, I am a staunch believer in parents having adequate and accurate information so that they can make the best decisions for their children's future!

Carole Keeton Rylander
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Introduction

Texas has one of the best and most comprehensive public school accountability systems in the nation. The system is based on regular assessments of academic skills and extensive data gathering from schools through the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS). Based on the data reported, public schools receive an annual accountability rating, ranging from exemplary to low-performing.

In the spring and summer of 1999, the media reported some public school districts were manipulating the data submitted to the state on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), and that some were posting inaccurate dropout rates and erroneously reporting their instructional and administrative costs through the PEIMS. The number of schools involved represented a small percentage of the state's schools, but enough to raise a red flag in the minds of the public.

Austin Independent School District (ISD) administrators were under criminal investigation for tampering with test documents. In Dallas and Houston excessive erasures on the answer sheets were questioned. Ysleta ISD was suspected of providing inaccurate PEIMS data. In other districts, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) was investigating possible misclassification of special education students to boost performance ratings. There were also reports of key student absences on test days.

Under her mandated authority to examine state agencies and school districts for effectiveness and efficiency, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander created the Public Education Integrity Task Force (Task Force) on September 21, 1999. The Task Force is made up of a diverse group of citizen volunteers from the private and public sectors who have a keen interest in the state's education system. To ensure complete access, Comptroller Rylander posted the open meetings and invited the public to attend.

The Task Force's goal was to identify ways to tighten internal and external controls in the current system to ensure the accuracy of data submitted to TEA and the integrity of accountability ratings. Moreover, the Task Force wanted to find incentives to encourage administrators, teachers and staff to adhere to the highest ethical standards in record keeping and reporting.

From the beginning, the Task Force members agreed that singling out individual districts would not improve the situation. Instead, the members wanted to carefully study the current processes and identify any inherent systemic weaknesses. The intent of this report is to recommend specific solutions to the problems that have been identified.

After more than a year of study, the Public Education Integrity Task Force has concluded that the current Texas student accountability system did not fail. Even though some events, particularly in the Austin and Ysleta ISDs, might indicate weaknesses in the system, the Task Force saw these incidents as proof that the system works. The system is designed to be self-correcting. It is. The inaccurate data reporting from these districts was detected, those responsible were held accountable and the superintendents took steps to remedy the problems.

On behalf of the people who are doing their best to work within the existing complex system of data compilation, reporting and testing, the state should be supportive. It does not make sense to create a system so complex that it requires an inordinate amount of resources to navigate it, thereby draining valuable assets from the classroom.

Texas' student accountability system is a high stakes system that depends on collecting and reporting accurate data. When the data are poor, the playing field is not level. Parents, community members, school boards and administrators are dependent upon adequate and accurate information to guide their decision making. The Task Force is determined to ensure that everyone plays by the same rules, to assess what the current system has achieved, to critically evaluate any potential weaknesses and to formulate recommendations to correct those weaknesses.

This report will identify areas where improvements could be made and recommend specific long-range solutions to problems that have been found. The Task Force seeks to minimize the changes in the law to preserve the results of the Senate Bill 1 reform originally enacted by the Legislature in 1995. As a result, only a few changes in statutory law are recommended. The majority of recommendations focus on administrative rule changes or clarifying or emphasizing existing law - recommendations that can be accomplished within existing statutory authority.