School rankings put HISD at top of lists

Apr 21, 2013 by

Terry GrierIn her sixth-grade history class at a small school in the Montrose area, 11-year-old Patrice Stubblefield read quietly from her textbook: “Subió el precio del petróleo.” She turned to two classmates at her table and explained in English that the price of petroleum rose in Latin America in 1980.

“It’s América Latina,” corrected Gresia Nunez, 12, the daughter of Mexican immigrants.

Nunez learned to speak and read English as a young student at Wharton Dual Language Academy, while Stubblefield learned Spanish at the school. At Wharton, native English speakers and native Spanish speakers study side by side, immersed in Spanish in the early grades with more and more English integrated as they get older.

The formula has worked well for Wharton, a Houston Independent School District campus serving students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The middle school level earned an “A” grade this year from Children at Risk, a local research and advocacy nonprofit that annually ranks public schools across Texas. The elementary school earned a “B.”

Roughly a quarter of the schools in Texas earning A’s, based on their academics and other classroom factors, are in the eight-county greater Houston area, according to the Children at Risk analysis released to the Houston Chronicle.

Houston ISD dominated the top and the bottom of the local rankings. On the high school list, DeBakey High School for Health Professions in HISD ranked first locally and third in the state.

HISD’s T.H. Rogers, which serves gifted students through eighth grade, ranked No. 1 on the local elementary and middle school lists. It also was the best elementary school in Texas.

Dallas ISD’s School for the Talented and Gifted placed first among high schools in the state. HISD’s gifted high school, Carnegie Vanguard, ranked fifth in Texas and second locally.

The best middle school award went to Young Women’s Leadership Academy in San Antonio ISD.

Many of the top-rated middle and high schools are charter schools or HISD magnet schools, both of which require students to apply. Some of the magnet schools, such as DeBakey and T.H. Rogers, have academic admissions criteria.

Bob Sanborn, the president and chief executive of Children at Risk, said the Houston area has its fair share of good schools, like Wharton, though in some areas students may have to leave the neighborhood campus to which they are zoned.

“For a parent who’s willing to do an extra bit of legwork or phone work, I think there are good options,” he said.

HISD, the largest district in the state, has the most A-rated schools (44) and the most F’s (22).

Fort Bend ISD, the third-largest district in the Houston area, has 18 A-rated schools and two earning the lowest grade.

The Katy, Clear Creek, Cypress-Fairbanks and Pearland districts fared well, with roughly 80 percent of their ranked schools landing A grades and none receiving F’s.

To rank the schools, Children at Risk used a weighted formula that included the percentage of students not just passing state exams in reading and math, but scoring at the highest level. High schools were judged on their graduation rates and various college-readiness standards, such as the percentage of students taking and doing well on Advanced Placement, SAT and ACT exams.

Retention rates were a factor for middle and elementary schools, as were class sizes at the elementary level.

In addition, schools that serve larger concentrations of low-income students were given an advantage in the formula to account for the impact of poverty on academic performance. Schools with missing data were excluded from the calculations.

Many data points

“Every methodology for a ranking is different,” Sanborn said. “Our rankings are different because we’re really trying to use as many points of data as there are out there.”

Jennifer Day, in her second year as principal of Wharton Dual Language Academy, believes so strongly in the Spanish-immersion program at the school that she sends her own son there. She attributes the school’s success in part to its small size – roughly 425 students this year, including just 70 at the middle school – and the stable teaching force.

The students are diverse, with parents hailing from India, China, Mexico and Houston, for example. Roughly 70 percent of the children come from low-income families.

Wharton’s middle school component ranked No. 11 (out of 283) in the local Children at Risk ratings, and the elementary part ranked No. 278 (out of 775). Based on state tests, Wharton still has room to improve, with the percentage of students scoring “advanced” in math below average.

Stubblefield, the sixth-grader who easily alternated between Spanish and English during a history lesson last week, praised her teachers for putting her at ease when she has struggled. “I like learning new things,” she said, “and being able to learn a new language is really cool.”

via School rankings put HISD at top and bottom of lists – Houston Chronicle.

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