Officials in Houston hope that this latest round of tests by HISD will quiet media.
Dec. 18, 2003, 12:41AM
HISD scores well against urban districts on exam
Officials hope results quiet media reports
By RON NISSIMOV
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
Students in the Houston Independent School District outscored most of their counterparts at nine other urban school districts in math and reading, according to results of the so-called "Nation's Report Card" released Wednesday.
HISD officials said the scores show that recent news media skepticism of the district's academic progress has been unfair and motivated by a desire to undermine President Bush's push for school accountability and mandatory student testing.
Bush, who named former HISD Superintendent Rod Paige as the U.S. secretary of education, has cited Houston as a model in touting his sweeping national reforms, called the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
The New York Times and other national media have questioned the validity of improved scores on the state-mandated Texas Assessment of Academic Skills that HISD recorded under Paige's leadership.
"Over the past several months, there has been a concerted attempt by a limited few in the nation's media to demean the accomplishments at HISD," said HISD Board President Kevin Hoffman. "The HISD Board of Education will not stand idly by and allow the national media to use Houston's children as a punching bag to discredit national reforms."
Paige made similar claims Monday while addressing the Greater Houston Partnership.
An official at the National Center for Education Statistics in Washington, D.C., cautioned that Wednesday's results of the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress don't necessarily mean HISD is doing a better job of teaching students than most of the other districts tested.
In several categories, HISD students scored higher than their peers by small margins that could not be considered statistically significant, said Val Plisko, associate commissioner at the NCES. She also said HISD was allowed to exclude many more Spanish-speaking students from taking a fourth-grade reading test given in English than districts in other states.
The NAEP has been administered for decades to compare how states are doing against each other in teaching basic subjects. Until last year, the results were never broken down by individual districts.
As part of the No Child Left Behind initiative, large urban districts were asked to volunteer to be tested individually in order to set performance benchmarks for such districts. The rationale was that urban districts have much higher percentages of minority and disadvantaged students than smaller suburban or rural districts, and hence the larger districts typically have much lower test scores.
In the spring of 2002, HISD and five other large districts volunteered to take the test in fourth- and eighth-grade reading, with HISD ranking second in average fourth-grade scores and first in eighth-grade.
HISD spokesman Terry Abbott said Wednesday's results are much more significant because 10 districts were tested in reading and math for fourth- and eighth-graders. The tests were administered in the spring. Students were randomly selected according to criteria established by federal officials. About 2,300 HISD fourth-graders were tested from 80 schools, and 1,700 eighth-graders from 38 schools.
The other districts that volunteered in the second test were Atlanta; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Cleveland, Ohio; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; New York; and San Diego.
HISD students typically ranked in the top half among these districts, and in some categories at near the top. But HISD was consistently below state and national averages, Abbott said, because of its large population of minority and disadvantaged students.
The Texas and national averages in fourth-grade reading were 215 and 218, respectively. In fourth-grade math, the scores were 237 and 235; in eighth-grade reading they were 259 and 263; and in eighth-grade math they were 277 and 278, respectively.
In all those categories except eighth-grade reading, HISD scored higher than the nation's average for all large urban districts.
In Houston and the rest of the country, a higher percentage of students typically scored at a "basic" level, meaning they demonstrated "partial mastery" of the subject, than at the "proficient" level, defined as "competency over challenging subject matter."
For the most part, HISD students fared better than students in large districts in such breakdowns, but worse than national averages.
Charlotte, with its significantly higher percentage of white students, ranked first in overall reading and math scores, but also consistently scored near the top among minorities.
Plisko said a more significant statistic is comparing scores among various ethnic groups, because whites and Asian-Americans tend to score significantly higher than blacks and Hispanics. HISD typically fared better in minority scores compared with the other large districts.
Abbott acknowledged that in some categories HISD students outscored other districts by only a slight margin, but added, "we did indeed score better."
Plisko said 24 percent of HISD fourth-graders were exempt from taking the reading test because they are bilingual, a much higher percentage than any other state. She said this could have raised HISD's score in the category.
Abbott said a higher percentage of HISD students were excluded because the NAEP follows state guidelines on who is tested. In Texas, bilingual students are given state reading assessment tests in Spanish, but the NAEP is not offered in Spanish, and hence these students were excluded.
He said the exclusions did not skew results because Hispanic students who take the reading test in Spanish typically score higher than Hispanic students who take it in English.
HISD is 57 percent Hispanic, 31 percent black and 9 percent white, Abbott said. Three percent of HISD's students are Asian-American, which was not enough for NAEP to determine an average score for that group in the district.
To see the NAEP report, go to ed.gov.