HISD High School STAAR Results Show Gains And a Long Way to Go

Mike Miles had encouraging news on student scores, and as he acknowledged, a long road ahead.
Mike Miles had encouraging news on student scores, and as he acknowledged, a long road ahead. Photo by Violeta Alvarez

Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles gained more than a little breathing room Wednesday with the return of HISD state testing scores that showed gains – some impressive – among high school students in the district who took the STAAR.

Even more so, the gains on his New Education System schools from 2023 to 2024 outpaced the non-NES schools on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. The state won’t release the scores across the state until this Friday but Miles was allowed to release his own district’s scores earlier. He couldn’t compare the HISD results to the state’s or other urban districts, other than to say HISD is looking good.

Year over year, HISD high school students improved by 5 percentage points in Algebra I, 3 points in English I, 5 points in English II, a whopping 14 points in Biology and stayed flat in U. S. History. At the NES schools, student scores improved by 10 points in Algebra I, 5 points in English I, 9 points in English II, 18 points in Biology and 5 points in U.S. History.

click to enlarge
Improvements made, more to come, Superintendent Mike Miles says.
HISD chart

“We know that we have a lot of work to do,” Miles said in an interview with the Houston Press. “The scores are really good. But there’s no mission accomplished sign anywhere in this building. And not going to be because we have a long way to go.

“So now let’s get to the results. We did great. It’s one of the best academic years that the district has had. NES schools [improved] higher than the district as a whole, almost twice as high, and the elementary and middle is even better.

“We can’t close the [achievement] gap of 40 points in one year but we narrowed it. I knew we would get some growth but these results far exceeded our expectations for one year."

HISD’s report focuses on students who ”meet or exceed” what the state determines is a “passing” score on the STAAR. It did not include the lower level of “approaches” making a passing grade as many districts – including HISD in the past – because Miles said, HISD should be focused on a higher standard.

Even with the most recent gains, HISD still hasn’t matched the scores of the pre-pandemic years in Algebra I and U. S. History.

As another reality check – and all districts do this – is that fact that while the percentage point growth is impressive, the results show that for instance, even with the gains in Biology, an overall score of 54 percent of all HISD students meeting or exceeding proficiency and 40 percent in NES schools means that 46 percent of students are not basically proficient in the subject throughout the district and 60 percent in NES schools don’t show the proficiency Texas considers a minimum line in that subject

Even with the boost of a special curriculum and method of instruction, 71 percent of NES students weren’t proficient in Algebra I, 74 percent in English I, 68 percent in English II and 52 percent in U.S. History.

The test scores – as opposed to the growth -- were better in non-NES schools where all the numbers were higher to start with. NES schools were selected because Miles and his administration deemed them most in need of extra academic assistance through the year. In the NES system, which this year had a special focus on Reading and Math, classes in those two subjects begin with 45 minutes of instruction, then a 10-minute daily quiz. Depending on the results of those quizzes, students are either sent to a Teams Center for more advanced work, or stay in the classroom for extra instruction from the teachers.

“Even with growth we are behind the state considerably in proficiency,” Miles said. “So the task for us is to grow our kids and if we grow year after year, we will catch up to the state or exceed the state. Last year, 40 percent of the kids could read, this year 44 percent. That’s good.

“Forty four percent overall is not that good. That’s not where we want to land. “

Asked how HISD avoids a sophomore slump next year, Miles said his administration is already planning on how to avoid that but believes the longer school year in 2024-25 and the more widespread knowledge of the NES curriculum will mean smoother going and not as much of an abrupt transition as there was this year.

Next year, Miles said Science and The Art of Thinking classes will employ that same approach. Eighty-five schools were NES this year, another 45 are being added in the 2024-25 year. Miles also said that in the 67 non-NES schools of the district’s West division, 35 of those schools used the NES curriculum at least in part, he said. Out of the 45 schoolthat are going to be NES, 37 of those used the NES curriculum already,” he said.

“We’re going to celebrate of course but we’re going to have to look at all other kinds of data. We’re going to look at the missile of the year, the end of the year. We’re going to look at the quality of instruction.
Anytime there is a huge increase in standardized test scores, the Texas Education Agency wants to know if all testing procedures were followed – i.e. that there was no cheating.

In anticipation of this, HISD included a "Reliability of Results" page in its report on high school scores detailing the measures it takes to ensure the test scores can stand up to scrutiny by the state.

click to enlarge
Test security at HISD
HISD chart
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing