Some HISD Schools Face Big Changes From No Child Left Behind

Step aside, Apollo 20. A slew of Houston ISD high schools are going to have to undergo serious overhauls to satisfy requirements of No Child Left Behind.

Federal school and district ratings were released this afternoon. In a subsequent press release, Houston ISD touted the fact that three-quarters of its campuses met the federally mandated Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind.

As the federal education act barrels toward a 100-percent proficiency rate in 2014 -- every student in the country must pass state-dictated math and reading tests in three years -- AYP is not an insignificant accomplishment. Most states, including Texas, back-end loaded their passing rates for proficiency up to the 2014 deadline, making the last handful of years a steeper climb for schools and districts.

So, bravo for progress, Houston schools. But the real impact of AYP will be felt at those Houston high schools that posted five consecutive years of failure in math: Jones, Westbury, Wheatley, Worthing, Yates and the Contemporary Learning Center.

Martha Stone is the director of the School Improvement Resource Center, which is the Texas Education Agency's interface with schools that fail to meet AYP. Every school in Stage 4, or four years of consecutive failure in math, reading or graduation rates, must submit a restructuring plan. That plan is reviewed by SIRC, in conjunction with divisions of the Texas Education Agency, and approved for use.

"The idea is, if they do not make AYP at the end of the fourth year, then they must implement their plan," Stone said. "Then SIRC, with its own professional service provider, assists them with the implementation of that plan."

Hence, federal law requires these six HISD campuses to be significantly overhauled this school year, up to and including the possibility of alternative governance. If that dictate sounds familiar, it is. NCLB was modeled on the Texas accountability system and both provide for progressive sanctions, up to and including reconstitution. Requirements under each system, however, are slightly different, and the stair-step of sanctions on the federal side lags behind the state by a year.

So, yes, what happens at these six Houston high schools could reasonably be expected to be the same as at a high school that fails under the state accountability system. Think changes at Westbury or Jones somewhat akin to the state-mandated restructuring of Sam Houston High School back in 2008, which divided the northside school into a ninth-grade campus and a center for math, science and technology.

Lee High School was on that five-year list, too, but it was reconstituted as part of Apollo 20 and will likely get a pass this year from federal intervention. On Thursday, Houston ISD did not have much in the way of specifics when asked about potential changes at the six campuses.

"HISD will now evaluate each campus to determine what interventions are appropriate and in line with state and federal requirements," said spokesman Jason Spencer.

As a footnote, Houston ISD as a district also failed to make AYP. It's failed for six years in a row. The quirk in the federal accountability system, however, is that progressive sanctions only apply, however, if the failure is in the same area year after year. In this case, this is only the second year in a row that the district has failed to meet its cap on exempting special education students from regular testing.

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