Two new achievement systems have been developed and implemented for the Houston Schools — a school board monitoring system and a new appraisal system for the superintendent. The district is committed to improving student achievement, as well as earning the confidence and support of the community. The two systems set new standards for the administrative structure and systematic improvement process for higher scholastic achievement in the Houston schools.
In 2001, Houston schools instituted a Declaration of Beliefs and Visions, which defined for school employees and the community what the district stands for and where it is going. The five goals put forth in the declaration are to:
• Increase student achievement,
• Increase management efficiency,
• Bring all school facilities up to standard,
• Improve public support and confidence in the Houston schools, and
• Create a positive district culture.
The declaration determined to accomplish these goals through:
• An educational structure built upon the relationship between teacher and student,
• Decentralization and shared decision making,
• A common core of academic subjects for all students, and
• Focus upon performance, not compliance.
The two new systems for the Houston schools provide a roadmap to achieve and measure the progress of these goals. Both are detailed and objective, providing a systematic means for meaningful and quantifiable organizational improvement.
Board Monitoring System
The monitoring system is comprehensive and demanding with data-driven accountability. It requires the superintendent to submit regular reports to the trustees on key education issues. These issues are student academic progress and readiness for college, quality of teachers, and how effectively funds are used in support of student instruction.
The reports must be in a specific, standardized format for future comparison. This includes what exactly is to be reported, how it is to be reported (using easy-to-understand data and bar charts), and how often the reports are to be submitted. The board wants nothing to be left to interpretation or guesswork, believing this too often is the cause of misperceptions formed of large, urban school districts. The information is to be used by the board for monitoring purposes, as well as provided to students, parents, teachers, the community, and the news media.
Superintendent’s Performance Appraisal System
The complement to the Board Monitoring System is the new performance appraisal system for the superintendent, which is expected to drive the focus for the Houston schools from the superintendent down to the classroom teacher. The system is objective and quantifiable, allowing the board to focus their attention on the performance levels the Houston schools need to reach. It requires more in-depth reporting and analysis of educational issues than the state of Texas currently requires. Specific goals of the appraisal system are to improve academic performance, management efficiency, and public and employee confidence and satisfaction.
The specific Houston schools educational issues that directly impact students and addressed by both new systems are:
• Dropout and graduation rates — the aim is an 85 percent graduation rate by the 2006-07 school year;
• Achievement gaps by student groups, broken down by ethnicity, economic status, and gender;
• Number and percentage of students:
Who are promoted to the next grade, as well as those held back,
Served by special education programs, as well as those who have moved out and no longer need these programs,
Receiving the highest scores on the state-mandated achievement test, and
Who take exams for advanced placement courses and those who pass these courses; and
• Student college readiness, including:
The college-ready scores from the state-mandated achievement test,
Number and percentage of students taking dual-credit courses, earning college credit while in high school,
Number and percentage of students who graduate under the state’s Recommended High School Program, and
Number and percentage of students who score above the national average on the S.A.T.
Other issues addressed that indirectly affect student achievement are:
• Teachers’ attendance rates;
• Number of teachers teaching outside of their areas of certification;
• The effectiveness of tax dollars spent on teaching and the learning process;
• The effectiveness of educational programs costing $1 million or more, and whether they should be modified or discontinued;
• School employee attitudes toward the Houston schools board and their work environment;
• Progress in bringing Houston schools facilities up to standard;
• Public perceptions about the Houston schools board and its direction; and
• Progress in achieving a “recognized” status as an accountable school district.
Both systems outline expectations, set clear direction for action and improvement of quality education, facilitate regular and ongoing discussion for program effectiveness, use straightforward data, and hold the entire organization of the Houston schools accountable. Both systems were developed to evolve and change in response to the Houston schools board and community’s demand for better education for the students and ever-increasing accountability.