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Schools in the USABecause the state of Texas sometimes seems to work like a separate country, with its own way of doing business, we thought we'd break out a bit of extra information about curriculum and acccreditation standards.

It can be a bit arcane, but important when you're trying to interpret the the state's or city's or school's standards, and want to know who to call for information and who's accountable.

Curricula

The Texas state-mandated curriculum, broad-based like all US curriculum, is called TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) and is controlled by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and governed by the Texas State Commissioner of Education.  The TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) is the associated testing system upon which all public schools are graded and given a rating of either Exemplary, Recognised, Academically Acceptable or Academically Unacceptable; some will have ‘Not Rated’ for obvious reasons. (NB unlike in the UK, a ‘public’ school is a state school. A ‘private’ school is an independent, fee paying school, and in the US is usually non-profit)

This rating system is referred to as the Texas Public School Accountability System.  Each Independent School District (ISD) is also given a rating based on the average ratings of its schools. While some ISDs can boast that well over half of their schools are either Exemplary or Recognised and have an overall rating of Recognised, none currently has an overall Exemplary status. Most school districts (ISDs) in Houston are rated Academically Acceptable which, let’s face it, is not that much to boast about. [NB For more about ISDs and how they work, boundaries, which ones have the best schools etc, go to the Houston Education Overview]

Rating and ranking the private schools is a more difficult task as they are not required to be included in the TAKS testing system. Most (if not all) private schools, though, do participate in some form of standardised testing of their students and results of those can be discussed directly with each school.

Some ISDs in Houston maintain a Magnet Programme within their schools. This is often an advanced learning program for children who can sustain a faster learning speed than is typical for their grade. Places are limited so entry exams, references and interviews are conducted to determine entry and once in, the child must keep up with the class to retain his/her place.

Accreditation in Texas

Accreditation of schools is an arcane subject at best, but in Texas, it gets downright eye-crossing. But it does matter, and the more you know about it, the more you know what questions to ask and the better you can check to see if a school dodgy or really is properly accredited. Take a deep breath...

For many years, the state of Texas accredited private schools as well as public schools.  Limited resources, however, forced the Texas Education Agency to stop performing this service for private schools.  The Texas Association of Non-Public Schools (TANS), wishing to maintain the benefits of state accreditation, worked out an agreement with the State Commissioner of Education to form a private accreditation commission that would recognise appropriate accrediting organisations.  This new commission was named the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission (TEPSAC), and it began operating in 1986. 

The State Commissioner of Education (and therefore the Texas Education Agency (TEA)) recognises TEPSAC and its accreditation responsibilities to its affiliated non-public schools.  After the establishment of TEPSAC, direct accreditation of non-public schools by the TEA was phased out and was discontinued by 1989.

TEPSAC recognises the Texas Alliance of Accredited Private Schools (TAAPS), the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS), the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and Texas Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, amongst others, as legitimate accreditation bodies. Of those, only SACS is recognised by the US Department of Education, which in turn recognises TAAPS.

TAAPS requires all member schools to comply with the State Board of Education curricula guidelines which are the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). Member schools have to be able to demonstrate standards equivalent to or above that of State schools in order to allow students to transfer into the public system.

So...all avenues lead back to the State Commissioner of Education who recognises both the state authority (TEA) and the private authority (TEPSAC) governing accreditation of schools in Texas. 

It would appear that if a school is recognised by one of these two authorities, then they are legitimate in the eyes of the State of Texas. This leads us back to the million dollar question; 'How good is Texas compared to the rest of the United States?'  

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, it seems clear that Texas students are not at the same educational level as the US average, and more Texas students will struggle and take extra classes to catch up. Thus far, we haven't found a league table which gives results of each state or Independent School District but a report compiled by StateMaster.com provides pretty damning evidence. Sourced from the 2000 US Census Bureau, Texas rates 51st (that’s last!) for the percentage of the population over 25 years old with a High School Diploma or higher.

Resources:

www.chron.com  – Houston Chronicle

www.statemaster.com  – StateMaster

www.taaps.org – Texas Alliance of Accredited Private Schools

www.tepsac.com – Texas Private School Accreditation Commission

www.tea.state.tx.us  - Texas Education Agency

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