Saturday, December 04, 2010

HISD considers easing the path to the next grade

What research shows is that the best thing you can do for a student is to promote them with resources. What we too often see is students retained with no resources, other than perhaps test-preparation.

Extending the multiple criteria assessment that was passed last session in House Bill 3 is one of the best things that HISD can do for its students. What's concerning though is that the policy to evaluate teachers based on student test scores is coming into opposition to this because (as the article shows) teachers are explicitly expressing their perception that promoted students are a liability and potential threat to their jobs.

It's clear that multiple criteria assessment for students is also necessary for teachers. This shouldn't be a problem since we now do it for schools under the new accountability system.


Draft proposal suggests reversing policy of promotion through tests, but Grier questions lowering standard

Nov. 19, 2010

Houston school district officials are debating whether to make it easier for students to be promoted to the next grade level, reversing a decade-old policy touted as one of the toughest in Texas.

A draft proposal from Superintendent Terry Grier's administration, delivered to the school board Thursday, suggests that students should no longer be automatically retained if they fail the state TAKS test or the national Stanford exam.

The change would bring HISD in line with most other districts, which don't require the testing for promotion, but some board members — and Grier himself — questioned whether lowering the standards was the right move.

HISD implemented the stricter rules in the late 1990s under then-Superintendent Rod Paige in an effort to end social promotion - which is the practice of advancing children based on their age, not their academic ability.

"I'm not a fan of social promotion," Grier said. "I worry about the rigor that's in our district right now, and I certainly don't want it to be easier to promote students who don't have the skills they need to be successful at the next grade level."

But, Grier added, research shows that students who are at least two years older than their classmates - generally because they were retained - are more likely to drop out.

Grier said he plans to make a formal recommendation on new promotion standards in coming months, and it could differ from the proposal made by Chuck Morris, his chief academic officer, and Carla Stevens, the assistant superintendent of research.

Whatever HISD decides, fifth- and eighth-graders still would have to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills under state law.
Scores good, but . . .

Stevens said the tougher promotion standards have not pushed student performance above other districts that follow the state guidelines.

"If all of that had worked," she said, "then our test scores should have skyrocketed and our graduation rates should have skyrocketed. Our TAKS scores are good. Our SAT and ACT scores are good, but they're not really where we want them to be."

Former HISD board member Don McAdams, who supported the stricter promotion standards at the time, expressed concern.

"The whole point about promotion standards is to make sure that every kid meets the standard," said McAdams, who now works as a consultant to school boards. "If the promotion standard is what the teachers say, there is a tendency statistically for students to be promoted who aren't ready for the next grade level."

Paige, who left his job running HISD to become the U.S. secretary of education, said he didn't want to second-guess the current administration and board.

"In general, high standards are the way to go, but they have information that I don't have access to," he said.

Stevens suggested that holding students back a grade because they failed the TAKS or the Stanford in one subject doesn't always make sense.

"It may be one piece of something they're not getting, maybe a component of math," she said. "That doesn't mean they should repeat the entire grade and repeat science and social studies and everything. We want them to be receiving on-grade instruction and then receive interventions and assistance in areas where they are deficient."

Last year, nearly 26,000 students in HISD - about 13 percent of the district - didn't meet the promotion standards. But the majority didn't end up being retained because they passed their courses in summer school or a campus committee gave them a waiver.
Above-average retention

Still, HISD retains a higher percentage of students than the state average, according to data from the Texas Education Agency.

Gayle Fallon, the president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said it wouldn't be fair to hold teachers accountable for the students' TAKS and Stanford scores if they are no longer part of the promotion requirements. The district gives bonuses to teachers based on student test scores and is working to incorporate them into teachers' formal job evaluations.

"You can't measure teachers on a standard that every child in the room knows doesn't count," she said.

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