The Tide is Turning in Houston ISD

HISD Listens to Parents on Calendar/Promotion Standards

Senior staff now exploring elimination of local STAAR-based promotion standards;

Board to vote Thursday on suspending promotion rules for current academic year while staff researches permanent alternative policy.

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At Houston ISD’s December Board meeting, parents spoke up about a serious problem with the district’s proposed calendar and the board listened by postponing its approval and asking staff to look into our concerns.

The following week, Chief Student Support Officer Mark Smith reached out to us for a meeting to discuss our concerns and potential ways the district could address them.

Initially, Mr. Smith inquired whether holding grade placement meetings (GPCs) prior to STAAR scores were received would be a reasonable alternative. After referring to the state manual that details requirements for involving parents in summer school and promotion and retention decisions of their children, it was agreed that state rules don’t allow for such meetings until parents and educators have all scores and grades available to make individualized plans for students.

Mr. Smith agreed that the state testing calendar posed a unique problem for HISD’s calendar and the amount of time principals had for holding these meetings was near impossible for grades other than 5th and 8th. That’s because the state — which requires students to pass one of three administrations of STAAR to be automatically promoted from just 5th and 8th grade — provides scores for those students before the end of the year while scores for grades 3, 4, 6 and 7 come back weeks after the last day of school.

In our meeting, Mr. Smith elaborated on his comments to trustees at the board meeting and said that he had already begun collecting feedback from principals and others on how the district might transition away from using STAAR scores as promotion standard other than what is required by state law. If this happens, it will be the beginning of reversing more than 18 years of the district placing greater and greater focus on state standardized tests.

We left the meeting agreeing that the district could assuage parent concerns about the calendar through a combination of two things. 

First, by eliminating the STAAR promotion standard outside of 5th and 8th grades, principals and teachers throughout the district would only need to accommodate parent meetings for a single grade on most campuses — 5th grade at elementary schools and 8th grade at middle schools. Second, district administration would undertake more disciplined planning with principals than in past years to make sure parents had the opportunity to schedule grade placement and summer school meetings with teachers present and that administrators would not ask parents to waive their right to these meetings because of a lack of time at the end of the year.

A few weeks later, we now see that the district local promotion policy is on the agenda (F-1) for Thursday’s board meeting. We’ll know more after the agenda review meeting tomorrow when detailed materials are released, but we anticipate that the administration will be recommending as parents asked last month that local STAAR promotion standards be suspended. 

Though we will need to be diligent this week as two new trustees take office prior to the Thursday meeting, we are extremely heartened by this process. 

>> Parents brought concerns to the board.

>> Trustees raised questions to the staff and asked for alternatives.

>> The staff met with and listened to parents prior to making recommendations.

>> And now the board has the opportunity to act on a better plan.

We sincerely appreciate Mark Smith’s open and honest engagement and that trustees listened to parents when important policy was at stake.

But the biggest news of all here is this…

With respect to over testing our children, the tide is turning in HISD.

In the state’s largest school district and arguably one of the birthplaces of corporate education reform, these years of parents asking questions, expecting more and opting out when they’d had enough is working. Trustees—new and old—and now their new superintendent see that change can no longer wait.

And it looks like that change may get one step closer this week. 

Stay tuned.