By MICHAEL BRICK
Texas public school students outscored the rest of the country in science and math but fell behind on literacy tests, even though the results excluded an unusually large percentage of students with disabilities and those learning English as a second language, according to a new federal report.
The Mega-States Report, released Thursday by the National Center for Education Statistics, provided national averages but focused on the five most populous states -- Texas, New York, Illinois, Florida and California.
Together, those states educate 18.7 million public school students, nearly 40 percent of the national total. Partly due to their status as immigration destinations, they serve most of the students classified as English Language Learners.
Michael L. Williams, commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, said the gains in math and science would put the state on a path to meet growing job needs in those fields nationwide.
"I do not believe any of the states represented think the gains have been enough, or that the work is anywhere near complete," Williams said in a written statement. "Our strength lies in a commitment to educating every child in every school in every community across our state."
The report, part of a periodic series known as The Nation's Report Card, underscored some broad trends in education policy.
Among the five big states, Texas spent the least money per student, $8,562 compared to a national average of $10,591.
But the state's student to teacher ratio, 14.7, was better than the national average of 16. Among the five most populous states, only New York assigned fewer students to each teacher. In California, the ratio was 24.1.
Since 1990, the student population in Texas public schools has shifted from 50 percent white to 32 percent white. As of 2011, the report said, 51 percent of students were Hispanic, 13 percent black and 4 percent Asian.
In math, Texas eighth graders raised their score by 32 points on a 500-point scale over comparable test results in 1990, posting the largest gain among the five big states and exceeding the national average. Black eighth-graders in the state accounted for much of the progress, scoring 42 points higher than in 1990.
In science, Texas eighth-graders posted a 3-point gain on a 300-point scale, outscoring the nation and the other big states. The percentage of students classified as proficient in the subject registered higher than the national average across racial lines.
But in reading tests, the state was allowed to exclude from the results the scores of six percent of its students with disabilities and five percent of its students classified as English Language Learners. Texas claimed the largest number of exceptions of any other big state, artificially inflating the final scores.
Texas took all those exceptions even though it does not have the largest burden of so-called English Language Learners. In Texas, 14 percent of the 4.9 million student population fit that designation, compared to 23 percent of California's 6.2 million students.
On the reading tests, students were asked to read fiction, literary nonfiction and poetry as well as basic informational texts, and then describe, interpret and critique the main ideas.
Texas eighth-graders made no progress, while the national score increased by three points. On the 500-point scale, with 281 considered the mark of proficiency, the nation and the five big states all fell below 270. Florida posted an 8-point gain, passing Texas on the scale, largely due to big increases for black students and students with disabilities.
The results exposed a jarring contrast to the state's own numbers. By the results of Texas' new set of standardized tests released last month, 80 percent of eighth-graders passed the state reading exams. At the time, Williams called the results "encouraging passing rates for the first year of a new, more rigorous test."
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