Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles warned Thursday that the district’s school ratings will take a hit this year, with its overall grade potentially falling from a B to a C.

Miles told school board members that upcoming changes to the state’s academic accountability system will result in lower grades for districts across the state — HISD included.

Roughly 50 out of HISD’s nearly 270 schools would receive D or F grades this year if they post the same achievement and growth scores as last year, Miles said. By contrast, only nine HISD campuses scored at the D or F level with those same scores last year, though none of them were officially rated due to the pandemic.

Texas Education Agency officials have said the overhaul to the state’s A-through-F accountability system is necessary to ensure the state “remains a national leader in preparing students for success after graduation.” However, school leaders throughout Texas have complained in recent months about the changes, arguing they are unfair and confusing to families.

The update is particularly important for HISD given the large role that school ratings play in state sanctions against the district. 

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath appointed Miles as superintendent and replaced HISD’s elected school board with an appointed board in June. The moves came after Wheatley High School received five straight failing grades, triggering a state law requiring sanctions.

Morath has said his first priority for the new school board and superintendent is to have no campuses with D or F grades in consecutive years. Morath has not said what will happen if the district does not reach this goal in the coming years. He has suggested the unelected board’s stay likely will not last more than about five years.

Ratings based on data from the 2022-23 school year will be released Sept. 28. 

“This is gonna be a heavy lift, and we’re gonna have to work boldly to do it,” Miles said.

A higher bar

Texas’ accountability ratings are largely based on a combination of raw state test scores, improvement on those tests, performance relative to campuses with similar student populations and success in closing achievement gaps. High schools also are graded on how many graduates are deemed ready for college, a career or the military.

After a two-year pause in ratings due to the pandemic, districts and schools across the state — HISD included — improved their grades in 2022 as test score growth climbed following extended virtual learning.

Between 2019 and last year, HISD’s number of schools receiving A or B ratings rose from 135 to 213. Its count of schools at the D or F level dropped from 47 to 9 during that time. 

Now, the Texas Education Agency is changing thresholds for receiving each grade and tweaking some of the metrics used to determine scores, making it more difficult to achieve higher ratings. Some of the updates are targeting methods that schools have used — legally — to boost their scores with relatively minimal effort, such as getting high school students certified in Microsoft Word.

During a Thursday board meeting, Miles presented “what if” figures that showed what HISD and its schools would receive this year based on 2021-22 test score data. HISD’s overall rating would drop from 88 to 76.

Miles cautioned that the projections won’t exactly match the actual 2023 ratings when they’re released in September, but the grades will be “somewhere around here.”

‘Moving the goal line’

Some community members said Thursday that it’s unfair for the state to change its accountability formula, especially after campuses showed growth last year.

“They’re moving the goal line,” said Dana Castro, a parent at Coop Elementary School on the district’s north side. “They moved the goal line on HISD.”

Kasai Porter, a special education teacher at Houston ISD’s Thompson Elementary School, listens as Superintendent Mike Miles gives a presentation during a board meeting Thursday at the district’s headquarters in northwest Houston. (Antranik Tavitian / Houston Landing)

Kasai Porter, a special education teacher at Thompson Elementary School on the district’s south side, said the update “really targets our Black and brown kids.” Thompson Elementary, one of 57 campuses that opted into Miles’ plan for major operational changes in 2023-24, has narrowly missed scoring B grades in recent years. 

“We saw scores go up because of growth in the last few years,” Porter said. “Now they’re gonna take it and put us on a bell curve.”

More than 200 districts, including HISD, voiced their own concerns about the update in March, writing to state officials that the rollout has been rushed and unfair to educators.

“In the midst of a teacher shortage, the last thing school districts need is another false narrative that drives a wedge between schools and the families they serve,” the districts wrote in a joint letter. “No public relations campaign from the TEA will be adequate to combat the misperception that our schools are suddenly worse than they were last year.”

Miles proposed a goal Thursday of reducing the number of D and F schools from his prediction of 50 in 2023 to fewer than 20 in 2024. He added that 70 percent of the 28 schools undergoing the most drastic overhaul this year should see at least one letter grade of improvement from 2023 to 2024.

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

Miranda Dunlap is a reporter covering K-12 schools across the eight-county Greater Houston region. A painfully Midwestern native to Michigan’s capital region, Miranda studied political science pre-law...