HISD'S Stanford Scores, Hoo-Rah With an Asterisk

After a few days of assessing the scores it had been dealt, Houston ISD today released the broad outlines of the latest Stanford scores for kids in grades 1-8 and claimed that its students "matched or beat the average scores posted by students across the nation...in reading, math, science, and language."

The district noted that "the number of students exceeding the national average increased from the 2010-2011 school year in the subjects of reading (50 percent) and language (53 percent). However, the percentage of HISD students scoring above the national average in math (61 percent) and social science declined (47 percent). The percentage of students scoring above the national average in science was unchanged (63 percent). HISD scores in all five subjects are higher than they were in 2009."

Well, that was one way to look at it. Another way is to compare how, say, last year's third graders did in reading compared to this year's fourth graders, who took the test this spring. Same essential class -- yes, with moves in and out because HISD is a highly transitory district -- but still a worthwhile comparison to see how progress is holding up.

There, however, a less rosy answer surfaces.

For instance, in 2011, 50 percent of the district's fourth graders hit the 50th national percentile rank or above. But by 2012, only 41 percent of those kids in fifth grade achieved the 50 percent rank. In fact, in this reading comparison, only two of the seven classes compared showed gains; the other five were losses.

In math, six of seven classes used for comparison saw a decline in the percentage of students reaching the 50th percentile; in language, five of seven showed losses, and social science, which is not tested for in grades one and two, saw declines in all but one class to next year's class comparison.

Results were much more encouraging in environment/science, where grade to next-grade improvements were recorded in four of the seven comparisons.

As the district's press release pointed out, HISD "is made up of more minority and low-income students than the national sample of students who serve as the reference group for the Stanford and Aprenda to which all students are compared. In HISD, 92 percent of students are non-white and more than 80 percent are from low-income families. The national sampling of students who set the standard on the Stanford exam, meanwhile, is 55 percent white and 40 percent low/middle income."

Saying that "Houston's teachers have done a great job helping our students narrow the achievement gap that separates them from their peers across the nation," HISD Superintendent Terry Grier promised to work to eliminate it.

"We must do more to achieve our goal of consistently delivering an academically rigorous education to every child in HISD, regardless of where they live," Grier said.

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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.
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