in Houston, Texas
Test scores show improvements at Apollo 20 middle schools, Houston ISD says
Friday, Apr 29, 2011, 01:36PM CST
By Lynn Walsh
bubbling in

The percentage of students passing a state-sanctioned math test on the first try went up at three of the five Houston middle schools in the Apollo 20 turnaround program, and two schools saw increases on the reading test, district data shows.

Overall, the Houston Independent School District says the percentage of eighth graders passing the TAKS math test increased by two percentage points, from 76% last year to 78% this year. The overall percentage of HISD eighth graders passing the reading portion of the TAKS test decreased by one point, from 88% last year to 87% this year.

Only two middle schools that are a part of HISD’s academic turn-around program saw increases in the percentage of students who passed both the math and reading tests -- Dowling and Key.

“We have some reasons to be optimistic,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said in a press conference Thursday. In “these schools, this year we have seen attendance up, we have seen discipline rates go down (and) out of school-suspension rates go down.”

Fondren Middle School saw the percentage of students receiving a passing grade decrease by six percentage points in both sections of the TAKS test. Compared to last year, Attucks Middle School didn’t see any change in the percentage of eighth graders who passed the reading test but saw the percentage of students passing the math test drop by 10 percentage points.

Ryan Middle School saw the percentage of students passing the math TAKS test increase by three percentage points and the percentage of students passing the reading test go down by four percentage points.

(View data from all of the Apollo 20 middle schools, including the number of students who did not pass the math and reading section of the TAKS test on the first try and the percentage of students who earned the highest performance level, “commended,” in the chart below.)

Being a part of the Apollo 20 program meant a longer school day and an extended school year for students at these five middle schools and four low-performing high schools in HISD. The longer school day allowed time for students struggling in core subjects like reading, math or science to receive an extra period of instruction. Longer school days also allowed time for sixth- and ninth-graders to receive math tutoring.

Grier says the academic growth of eighth-grade students at Apollo 20 schools is “most pronounced” among those “who participated in the double-dose of instructional time either in math or reading.”

Seventy percent of Apollo 20 eighth grade students receiving a “double-dose” of math instruction passed the TAKS math test. That’s an increase of 21 percentage points compared to the same students’ scores on the TAKS math test last year when they were in seventh grade, HISD data shows.

More than 75% of the students receiving a “double-dose” of reading instruction passed the eighth-grade TAKS reading test. That is a 20-percentage point increase compared to the same students scores on the seventh-grade reading test last year.

“You are looking at actual student growth from one year to the next,” Grier said. “So, is that progress, yes. Is that victory? (I) don’t think so. It is a small snapshot … I think it is still concrete evidence that we are in the right place.”

Grier says these schools have “been failing for such a long period of time” that turning them around is not going to happen overnight but, he says, HISD “is off to a great start.”

Key Middle School saw the greatest gains out of all of the Apollo 20 middle schools. Key saw the percentage of eighth graders passing the reading test go up by 11 percentage points, while the percent of eighth graders passing the math portion of the test went up by 24 percentage points.

Grier said he believes the passing rates at Key may be result of a new principal being hired.

“She was the first principal we hired,” he said. “We hired her early, and she had a chance to come to work and assess the staff that was there. And she had an opportunity to recruit...from other teachers she knew and other teachers across district.”

Roland Fryer, an Apollo 20 advisor for HISD, agrees with Grier’s reasoning, but also said that Key “had more to grow.” Key “had 30 points in math. Fondren couldn’t go 30 points in math unless you are somehow going to get 110% of the students to pass,” he said.

Fryer serves as the leader of the HISD partnership with Harvard University’s Education Innovation Laboratory, known as EdLabs, which has been working closely and making recommendations for HISD’s school turnaround program, Apollo 20.

Reading and math TAKS results from all fifth- and eighth-grade students in the district were released Thursday. The results are from the April 4 math tests and April 5 reading tests. Students who did not pass the first time around will have two more chance to pass the test, first in May and again at the end of June.

If a fifth- or eighth-grade student does not pass TAKS after the third attempt, he/she will not be allowed to move onto the next grade level, HISD said.

Some schools in the district have 100% passing rates in both subjects. Scott and River Oaks elementaries had 100% passing rates in both fifth-grade reading and math. Ross Elementary School has a 100% passing rate in fifth-grade reading and Briscoe, Bush and Seguin elementaries have 100% passing rates in fifth-graders’ math.

Briarmeadow and Kaleidoscope middle schools, along with Project Chrysalis, Wilson Montessori and Dominion and Wharton academies, all have 100% passing rates on the eighth-grade reading section of the TAKS test.


Contact Lynn Walsh,, 713-228-2850 or on Twitter, @lwalsh.

Photo by flickr user timlewisnm, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Friday, 04/29/2011 - 02:04PM

This is great, but I must say that our present education system does not always provide the challenges that can bring out the best from a student. Every American student has the capability to complete their school and hold postsecondary degrees. They have the expertise and talent; but schools fail to bring that out and we, the parents, need to depend on private tutors. However, considering the high rate of private tutors, I think online tutoring services could be a better option. Online tutoring services like help students by providing all essential helps, at the most reasonable cost. There are many students in our country, who can’t continue with their studies due to lack of proper guidance and poor financial background. Some of them offer online math scholarship program to help deserving underprivileged American students learning math at free of cost.

C'mon, really!
Friday, 04/29/2011 - 03:15PM

What we don't know from the information is whether the Apollo20 schools did any better or worse than the rest of the schools in general. From what little information we have the mixed results seem to suggest that they are no different than any other group of middle schools - some went up, some went down and some stayed the same. For $20+ million dollars they should have done MUCH better than those that didn't get the resources and the program.

Friday, 04/29/2011 - 08:48PM

It is interesting to note that the gains are based on "Key Middle School" inflated results. The same school investigated for cheating. Remove them from the equation and the overall gains noted by the superintendent and board president are reversed. $24,000,000!

Judd Bingle
Saturday, 04/30/2011 - 03:54PM

Sit back, ladies and gentleman, and wait. You are about to see a whole new level of spin on these abysmal scores. Abysmal, you ask? For $24 million, Grier and his blind-supporters on the HISD board could afford nothing less than smashing success. Grier and Paula Harris, Manuel Rodriguez, Greg Meyers, Harvin Moore, Larry Marshall, and Anna Eastman are about to pass the most punitive teacher evaluation plan in the USA. Hold the leaders to the same standard and they would all be rated "Ineffective." Time to bring in the big broom.

Browder Smith
Saturday, 04/30/2011 - 06:00PM

The real story is about Deady Middle School, another struggling school that is *not* Apollo 20, but had amazing gains.

Alan Cook
Monday, 05/02/2011 - 02:28PM

National math test scores continue to be disappointing. This poor trend persists in spite of new texts, standardized tests with attached implied threats, or laptops in the class. At some point, maybe we should admit that math, as it is taught currently and in the recent past, seems irrelevant to a large percentage of grade school kids.

Why blame a sixth grade student or teacher trapped by meaningless lessons? Teachers are frustrated. Students check out.

The missing element is reality. Instead of insisting that students learn another sixteen formulae, we need to involve them in tangible life projects. And the task must be interesting.

Project-oriented math engages kids. It is fun. They have a reason to learn the math they may have ignored in the standard lecture format of a class room.

Alan Cook

Concerned Parent
Tuesday, 05/10/2011 - 09:17AM

These are results to celebrate??? If you take out Key which was so far below even HISD's average that there was little direction to go but up, what do we have for our $24 million?

Reading: Overall HISD dropped 1 point. Apollo 20: 0, 1, -6, -4

Math: Overall HISD went up 3 points. Apollo 20: -10, 1, -6, 3


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