Grier Calls 1st TAKS Tests for Apollo "Progress, Not Victory"
Superintendent Terry Grier released Houston ISD's first-round state test scores for fifth and eighth graders on Thursday, acknowledging at the start of the press conference that the results for middle school students in the Apollo 20 pilot project were of the most interest.
Spinning the TAKS results.
And those particular results from tests taken this spring, while promising in several cases, were a bit mixed -- which may or may not explain why HISD did not immediately release this public information when asked for it earlier this week by the Houston Press.
Commenting on the fact that eighth graders at Apollo schools increased their reading scores overall by 13 percentage points compared to the district average increase of nine points, Grier said: "So is that progress? Yes. Is that victory? Don't think so. It's a small snapshot. I think it's still concrete evidence that we're moving in the right way."
"Lots of folks want to see results right now. This is a three-year project, a three-year school turnaround effort. Some of these schools are our lowest performing kind of middle schools in the district. We have sat here as an organization year after year, sat by and we watched the schools slowly sink to the level where they are now," Grier said. "And to think that we are all of a sudden going to get them to the top quartile or even to the 50 percentile at the end of one year is wrong-hearted and that certainly was not our expectation. Most research shows that turnaround models, even ones that are successful, take four or five years. We believe we're going to turn around these schools in three years."
He also pointed out that "We know these scores are going to change," and predicted that there would be a significant improvement in the passing rate among the students who take the test the second time later in this school year. He cautioned against reading too much of anything into them.
Accompanied by Board President Paula Harris and Trustee Manuel Rodriguez, Grier presented statistics comparing this year's "first take" eighth grade results in reading and math to last year's first take results for seventh graders in those schools. He called it apples to apples in explaining why the charts didn't reflect the more traditional (and Texas Education Agency method of) comparing the same grade levels in making score comparisons.
Overall results showed the percentage of Apollo 20 students passing reading in the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills increased by 1 percentage point to 80 percent, compared to a 1 percent decrease in the district overall. Those reaching the "commended" level -- something Grier and the trustees have repeatedly declared is the real threshold for college readiness -- increased 2 percentage points to 23 percent, the same rate as the district.
Progress might take awhile, Grier says.
Overall passing on math was 65 percent for Apollo students, an increase of 2 percentage points but 1 percentage point less than the district's increase. As for the commended level, 11 percent of Apollo students made it in math, a 2-percentage point increase, which is the same rate of increase as the district.
Grier set the stage earlier in the day at the morning's board workshop on the budget for less than spectacular results when Apollo 20 sparked some discussion and he said no one should ever have expected a one-year turnaround for these schools.
The most dramatic gain was scored by Key Middle School, which went from 63 percent passing reading to 74 percent and most dramatically for 27 percent to 51 percent in math.
Grier and Harris said an important difference at Key was that the principal there was hired earlier than any of the others at Apollo middle schools and had a chance to assess her staff and recruit.
No one mentioned the elephant in the room, namely that Key has had dramatic improvements in test scores before and been investigated for TAKS cheating, an allegation that an HISD report judged warranted. Which is also why Key got a new principal early.
But this was a new day and a brand-new principal. And as noted by Harvard researcher Dr. Roland Fryer, who has been working with HISD on the Apollo turnaround project and attended the press conference, it's a lot easier to grow scores from 20 percent to a 50 percent passing rate than it is to move from say 75 percent to 95 percent. He said he wanted to look at the micro data, down to the individual child level, before declaring whether Apollo was working or not.