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Houston ISD high school students showed growth on the state’s leading standardized tests in 2023-24, the first year of a polarizing state takeover of the district, according to preliminary results released by HISD leaders Wednesday.

The data showed the share of HISD high schoolers scoring at “meets grade level” or “masters grade level” increased at a rate higher than state averages in all five subjects tested — results that Superintendent Mike Miles described as an early victory for his administration.

The Texas Education Agency will not finalize results of the tests, known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, End-of-Course exams, for several months. However, Miles said the numbers are “pretty solid” because state officials have given them a first round of vetting.

Miles attributed much of the growth to curriculum changes, such as replacing old textbooks and lesson plans that did not align well with state standards. He said he celebrates test score gains because they’re an indicator that students are improving in their basic academic skills.

“I just want kids to read. I want them to do math at grade level,” Miles said. “The STAAR exam is just a proxy for whether a kid can read or not.”

The early numbers show HISD's share of Algebra I test-takers scoring at or above grade level rose from 34 percent to 39 percent. Those scores on English I increased from 41 percent to 44 percent and English II performance improved from 44 percent to 49 percent, HISD officials said. 

Statewide data shows the percent of students scoring at or above grade level on the Algebra I and English I tests was unchanged in 2024 when compared to 2023. Scores rose 4 percentage points on the English II test, roughly on par with HISD's improvement.

The three tests are the only high school STAAR exams related to math and reading, the most-watched subjects among educators.

Students at 11 high schools overhauled under HISD’s “New Education System” drove much of the growth, posting gains totaling roughly double those in the district’s other 30-plus high schools. Teachers at some of the New Education System schools received significant pay raises this year, and teaching practices were changed across all of the targeted campuses.

A good measure of success?

The early results come after one of HISD’s most tumultuous years, in which state leaders installed a new superintendent and nine-member school board amid academic sanctions against Texas’ largest school district.

After his appointment, Miles moved swiftly to change virtually every aspect of teaching and learning at 85 of HISD’s roughly 270 schools, facing heavy criticism from teachers unions and many families. The new model will reach 130 schools next year.

Miles has pledged to raise test scores and improve learning across HISD, using the state standardized tests as a primary benchmark for his performance.

Critics of his administration have argued Miles’ approach places too much emphasis on test scores, which they argue aren’t a good measure of student success, and closely tailors teaching to the exams. They also have blasted Miles’ treatment of teachers and principals, pointing to an above-average rate of resignations and firings.

“I don’t think the test scores ever should be the sole determiner of success,” said Houston Federation of Teachers President Jackie Anderson, who leads the largest employee union in the district.

Miles hinted that strong test score growth may put HISD on track to begin transitioning power back to democratic control two years from now.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who has the authority to decide when to begin the transition, has said the return will happen when HISD no longer has any multi-year failing schools under Texas’ A-through-F academic accountability system. School district accountability ratings are largely determined by state standardized test scores.

“My gut says, looking at these scores, a whole bunch of schools are going to come out of intervention status,” Miles said. “If we can do this three years in a row, then maybe we can start to transition.”

Elementary student data hasn’t undergone a first round of data cleaning, which is why HISD has not yet released those scores, Miles said. But Miles said HISD’s youngest test-takers performed “even better” than high schoolers, based on the rough figures available.

Each spring, students across Texas take the STAAR exams, which many school leaders consider the most reliable state measure of students’ learning growth. Finalized results will likely be released by the Texas Education Agency in late summer or fall.

Asher Lehrer-Small covers education for the Landing and would love to hear your tips, questions and story ideas about Houston ISD. Reach him at [email protected].

Update, June 7, 12 p.m.: This story has been updated to include statewide test score data released by the Texas Education Agency. The data was not publicly available when this story was initially published.

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Asher Lehrer-Small is a K-12 education reporter for the Abdelraoufsinno. He previously spent three years covering schools for The 74 where he was recognized by the Education Writers Association as one...