As Houston ISD’s new state-appointed superintendent, Mike Miles, has moved to make huge changes across the district, he’s repeated one key complaint: the district’s academic performance isn’t good enough.

Miles’ criticism is rooted in stagnant growth in reading and math test scores in HISD, as well as consistently large gaps in results between wealthier white students and students of color from lower-income backgrounds. The lack of improvement means tens of thousands of HISD students continue to graduate unprepared to excel in the modern economy, limiting their ability to find high-paying jobs.

But multiple data points also show Texas’ largest school district is hardly an outlier. In fact, HISD performs roughly on par with its big-city peers serving similar student populations, including Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio independent school districts.

With Miles pushing forward on his vision for overhauling HISD — often in the face of staunch opposition from families and educators — these charts help explain the state of the district he inherited. To see more information about each district on the line charts, hover the cursor over the lines.

Mixed marks on the Nation’s Report Card

Every other year, fourth- and eighth-grade students in large cities across the country take the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card. (The scheduled 2021 exams were pushed to 2022 due to the pandemic.)

In 2022, the tests showed HISD lags behind national and state averages in reading, with roughly four-in-five students falling short of proficient. Meanwhile, HISD students performed middle-of-the-road when compared to other large Texas districts and slightly behind other large districts nationwide.

At the same time, HISD has seen virtually no change in its NAEP reading proficiency scores in the past decade, a time when national scores slightly dipped.

“Problem number one is that we have some low proficiency. … Problem number two, we've been low proficient for too long,” Miles said about NAEP scores. “The whole nation has done a poor job, it’s not just HISD.” 

Similar trends on STAAR

HISD’s performance on state reading and math tests remains below Texas’ average, but the district has slightly more students scoring on grade level than most of its peer districts.

HISD has seen solid growth over the past several years in reading, with the percentage of students at grade level rising 11 percentage points since 2017.

The district’s math scores aren’t quite as strong, though HISD still outpaces some of its closest comparisons.

Just like virtually every other Texas district, HISD faces huge splits in test scores between demographic groups. Miles routinely argues the disparities speak to the need for “urgent” and “bold” changes, while critics of Texas’ Republican-led government often blame inadequate school funding and conservative policies for the achievement gaps. 

More graduates, fewer collegians

HISD’s share of students graduating within four years is mostly in line with other large Texas districts.

Notably, HISD has seen steady growth in its graduation rate, rising 5 percentage points in the past five years. That’s the best improvement among some of its peer districts.

But an increase in graduates isn’t translating into more college-bound students in Texas. Fewer HISD students are enrolling at Texas’ two- and four-year higher education institutions after graduating, a trend exacerbated by the pandemic. (Texas education officials don’t track out-of-state enrollment.)

Even so, this decline keeps HISD largely consistent with the trends at peer districts. 

Keeping kids in class

Relative to its size, HISD sent fewer kids to in-school suspension than most Texas school districts. Its out-of-school suspension rate tops the state average, though it’s comparable to other similar districts. (One outlier: Dallas ISD, which effectively eliminated the option of suspending students in the district.)

At some campuses, Miles has fashioned parts of libraries into discipline areas for disruptive children to continue class remotely, a controversial move that he expects will reduce out-of-school suspensions and other disciplines. Critics have said the elimination of librarians to make way for the arrangement, which has been rolled out at campuses in primarily low- and middle-income neighborhoods, will hurt student literacy and will disproportionately burden students with special needs.

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Miranda Dunlap is a reporter covering small business and entrepreneurship for the Houston Landing. A painfully Midwestern native to Michigan’s capital region, Miranda studied political science pre-law...