Houston area schools that typically perform well have shown drop in performance since pandemic, annual report shows

In Houston, many high schools that typically perform well, such as Bellaire, Westside, Lamar and Memorial, have seen significant drops in performance. Meanwhile, Carnegie Vanguard High School was the most highly ranked high school in the area.


Carnegie Vanguard High School was ranked the highest in Houston schools.

Children at Risk, a Texas-based advocacy and research non-profit, recently released its yearly ranking of Texas public schools from the 2021-2022 school year. The organization aims to assess the root causes of child poverty and inequality in the state of Texas and has been conducting the annual school ranking for the last 18 years. This, however, is the first official ranking the organization has done since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The findings indicate, across the greater Houston area, students are showing a significant amount of learning loss as a result of the pandemic.

How the ranking works

For elementary and middle schools, the organization looks at standardized test scores as well as campus performance, which it calculates by comparing schools of similar demographic make-up. It also examines student growth, a longitudinal measure of how much a child grows from year to year within a particular school. For high schools, it additionally calculates college readiness, determined by looking at metrics like graduation rate, AP exam scores, SAT scores and ACT scores.

Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk, said each one of these criteria is weighted equally in determining a school's overall rank, which differentiates the organization's ranking from the state's assessment of schools.

"The state doesn't measure it equally," he said. "If you do very well in one of those metrics, the state will basically let you have the higher score and not rate you on some of the lower scores. We look across the board at entire performance."

Main Findings

Reading and math scores showed a large portion of learning loss over the course of the pandemic throughout the state. Also, Sanborn said college readiness scores among high schoolers dropped by a statistically significant margin.

"High schools saw so much less engagement," said Sanborn. "High schools, by and large, are not doing well."

In Houston, many high schools that typically perform well, such as Bellaire, Westside, Lamar and Memorial, have seen significant drops in performance.

"They're still not F schools," Sanborn said. "But we see the impact."

Meanwhile, Carnegie Vanguard High School was the most highly ranked high school in the area, and Sanborn noted that students at magnet schools continued to place highly.

"Those schools where you see a lot of kids that are intellectually curious, those kids seem to be doing just the same," said Sanborn.

While several Houston schools performed very well in the organization's rankings, many placed near the bottom for the entire state. Sanborn says these mostly include high schools with a large proportion of low-income students and have a history of performing poorly.

Overall, the assessment found that the performance gap that already between existed between high-income and low-income schools widened during the pandemic.

"If things were bad for you beforehand, things are worse now," Sanborn said. "If you were coming from a low-income household and your parents had low levels of educational attainment, by and large, things got worse."

Gold Ribbon Schools

There are a subset of high-performing schools that Children at Risk labels "Gold Ribbon Schools." At these schools, over 75% of the student body are economically disadvantaged, yet the schools are still earning an A or B ranking. While there are a number in Houston, the Rio Grande valley seems to have the highest portion of such schools in the state. Sanborn attributes the success of these schools to parents and students continuing to remain engaged throughout the pandemic.

Creative Solutions

Sanborn says schools are far from "back to normal," and students will continue to require additional support and strong leadership in order to fully catch up. "The districts across the state that are overperforming tend to have activist superintendents," said Sanborn. "The schools that are overperforming have these principals that are trying to think outside the box. We're going to need to do things differently if we're going to get ahead."

Beyond school leadership, Sanborn also called for action from leaders in Austin. He thinks legislative focus on matters like transgender students competing in sports is misplaced, and that lawmakers should, instead, be focusing their efforts on improving academic performance in public schools.

He also criticized legislators' efforts to divert state funds into school voucher programs. "It's almost like saying, ‘My car's not running well, so I'm going to refuse to put gas in it,'" Sanborn said. "Just put gas in the car, and it'll run. Just put money into best practices in public education."

To see how schools in your area are doing, visit

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