District results follow state trends despite increases in population of at-risk students and number of Spanish-speaking students transitioning to English reading exam.
Seventy percent of Houston Independent School District third-graders passed the 2015 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness reading test — a two-point boost over the previous year.
District administrators attributed the bump — slightly higher than the state increase — to the Literacy by 3 initiative, which calls for all students to be reading and writing fluently by the third grade. As part of that program, all kindergarten through third-grade classrooms were provided last year with leveled libraries, a special collection of books designed for students at varied reading levels. By providing materials at differing levels, teachers are better able to meet the needs of all students.
With the exception of third-grade reading, trends in HISD’s STAAR scores seemed to mirror those exhibited by the state — holding steady in some areas and declining in others. This, despite the fact that HISD saw significant increases in the population of at-risk students and the number of native Spanish speakers taking the STAAR in English.
“We know there is more work to be done,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said. “We are analyzing our results and already have begun to identify schools facing significant challenges so that we may provide them with additional support, training and resources. We’re also studying schools with the most significant gains in an attempt to identify and replicate their best practices.”
According to district data, an increasing number of English Language Learners (students who don’t speak English as their first language) are taking the English version of the STAAR reading exam.
In 2009, 64 percent of HISD English Language Learners in third through eighth grades — or 13,849 students — took the state’s reading exam in English. That number has steadily increased, rising to 78 percent — or 20,057 students — this year. That’s an increase of more than 6,200 English Language Learners taking the English version of the reading exam.
Also on the rise is the number of at-risk students enrolled in HISD. That number has jumped from 57 percent during the 2012-2013 school year to 72 percent for the current year.
When compared to last year, the percentage of students already meeting the tougher passing standards being implemented next year has increased for all students in reading, science, and social studies. The same is true across all student groups – African American, Asian, Hispanic, and white – when looking at results for seventh grade writing, eighth grade science and social studies, and third through eighth grade reading.
The achievement gap, however, appears to be widening for almost all grades and all subjects when comparing current results with those from 2012. This serves to reinforce the importance of recruiting and retaining the very best teachers and principals.
To do that, administrators have proposed an increase in starting teacher salaries for the 2015-2016 school year. The move is designed to bring starting salaries up to $50,500, which would be more competitive and aid in recruiting efforts. The district also is moving forward with a salary increase for middle and high school principals that would bring them more in line with their counterparts in surrounding districts.
In addition to recruitment and retention efforts, HISD also has implemented several measures to ensure all students — especially those who are most at risk — have the academic support they need to be successful.
Leveled classroom libraries will be added to all fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms for the upcoming school year.
The district also is working with teachers to ensure they have the training and resources needed to offer differentiated, small-group instruction designed to meet the needs of students on varying levels. The multilingual and curriculum departments also are providing specialized training for English Language Learner teachers.
HISD 2015 STAAR Results
Percentage indicates percent of students who met state’s current satisfactory passing standard.
Grade 3: 70 percent
Grade 4: 63 percent
Grade 5: 68 percent
Grade 6: 64 percent
Grade 7: 64 percent
Grade 8: 68 percent
Grade 4: 63 percent
Grade 7: 63 percent
Grade 5: 63 percent
Grade 8: 61 percent
Grade 8: 55 percent
*Note: The Texas Education Commission implemented new math curriculum standards for the 2014-2015 school year. Accompanying passing standards have not yet been established, and 2015 math results won’t be tabulated and released until later this year. As a result, math assessments will not be included in the tabulation for 2015 school accountability ratings.
While it is gratifying the district sees progress, it is important to remember that the state standards for passing some of these tests are unbelievably low. In certain cases, a 3rd, 4th or 5th grade student must get only a little over half of the questions right to pass. 54% on a test is not a grade I would brag about to my parents, would you?
I cannot comment on middle school exams, as I do not have the background knowledge. It’s in a chart somewhere that we received when STAAR became the state standardized test. I imagine these upper grade passing standards follow the elementary trend of low.
Our goal should be a passing standard of 75%, which apparently still looms in the future. 75% is still not a great grade; only satisfactory. That’s a C. Your performance is termed as average. Do we really want to be turning out average students to our world?
Although many students do exceptionally well on the tests and some score 100%, we can’t see that from the above statistics.
We have teachers with gifts to bring the high readers higher and we have teachers with gifs to reach the struggling students and bring them up to standard. There is a mismatch of these gifted students and teachers throughout the district, which can only be solved from higher up. Teachers are loath to move, in many cases, and parents are always up in arms about boundary changes. With all due respect to Dr. Grier, who has put some exceptionally brilliant programs for learning in place, we need a Joe Clark to turn this mess around. Maybe we can find one when Dr. Grier’s illustrious career in HISD comes to an end.
When the passing standard is 75% and the district has 75% of our students mastering these tests, that will be something to brag about. We know that some schools need more help than others. Board member Anna Eastman’s recent comment in the local Leader newspaper that the 22-1 issue we fought so hard for in the 1980’s is unimportant in the big scheme of things shows us at least one individual in position of authority who may be confused about what teaching in 2015 is really about. It’s challenging, difficult, demanding, often frustrating, and time-consuming with an ultimate goal, hopefully, of reward. We’re doing the best we can in many cases because of the boxes we are trapped in. The instructional days lost to practice testing instead of teaching are appalling.The above statistics show we desperately need help. Of course 3rd graders should be reading by third grade. We read by K or 1st. Three for three is ridiculous and insulting. Also, bringing a bunch of first-year inexperienced teachers in at $50K sounds like just the right way to solve this problem, doesn’t it?
Kudos for the improvements; we have a long way to go to be in a place of pride. I taught for 30 years before retirement from another district and have been working part time in intervention for the district for eight years. I wish I could say I’ve seen conditions in a constant state of improvement and innovation, but instead I’ve seen downtrodden teachers and a state standardized testing program that gets worse every year. Good luck. We need it.