Houston has some great public schools with application-based programs in a wide variety of fields. In this section, we talk about some public school specific considerations and background information.
Application and Zoned Schools
This site focuses on schools falling mostly within Houston Independent School District (HISD); the two primary exceptions are Westchester Academy and Cornerstone Academy, which lie within Spring Branch ISD. As the largest school district in Texas and seventh largest in the United States, HISD covers all the public schools within the 610 loop and a significant portion outside the inner loop as well. In some areas, HISD extends all the way to Beltway 8. SBISD is located northwest of Houston, just outside the 610 loop. Both HISD and SBISD are independent, which means that they are separate from the municipal government.
With very few exceptions, public schools only accept students residing within the boundaries of the school’s district, which means the student’s place of residence must be within the district’s boundaries. In fact, a public school will usually only accept students living within the zoned area of that school. All comprehensive public schools have a designated area from which they pull students. If the student lives within that area, the student will attend that school.
However, for this site, we have chosen only schools that accept students from anywhere within the school’s district. If you want your child to attend a school that allows automatic enrollment based off of zone, you will need to buy or rent a home in that school's enrollment zone.
Texas Public School Graduation Requirements
In Texas public high schools, each semester is half a credit. In some cases, high schools will accept some middle school credits, usually Algebra I and the first year of a foreign language. Check with your child’s middle school to find out exactly which credits will transfer to high school.
Texas offers two different types of diplomas: Recommended and Distinguished. Students must complete 26 credits to earn a Recommended Diploma (for 9th grade students entering school in 2012-2013 academic year).
English (4) Social Studies (4)
Math (4) Science (4)
Foreign Language (2) Physical Education (1)
Speech (1/2) Fine Art (1)
Electives (5 and 1/2)
At the expense of an elective, students must take one more year of a foreign language to earn a Distinguished Diploma:
All public school courses are based on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) set by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The TEKS are a list of objectives or concepts that the students will learn in each course. They can be found on TEA’s website (www.tea.state.tx.us).
Gifted / Talented Magnet and Vanguard Programs
Children who function at an above average level can be tested for the Gifted/Talented (G/T) designation. Currently, about 15% of students in HISD are designated as G/T. Most G/T children love to learn, learn faster than their peers, and exhibit creativity or insight in their thoughts and actions.
In order for a student to receive the title of Gifted/Talented (G/T), a parent, a teacher, or the student must nominate the student for testing. As well as the student’s G/T test results, the G/T Admissions Committee at the student’s school will also take into account the student’s grades, scores on other standardized tests, and teacher recommendations. All the student’s data will go into the G/T Matrix, which is a document that assigns point values to the various pieces of data. If the total points add up to G/T qualification (currently 62 points), the student then receives the G/T title. Parents and teachers may appeal a non-qualifying decision if they have test scores or grades to add to the student’s G/T Matrix. Students who qualify as G/T in elementary must re-test in 5th grade to qualify for G/T status in middle and high school.
Download the 2013-2014 HISD G/T Matrix Here.
Vanguard programs work to meet the needs of G/T students; it is a type of magnet program. Neighborhood vanguard programs operate on non-dedicated G/T campuses to meet the needs of G/T students. All teachers of G/T students will have G/T training in order to meet G/T students’ needs at all schools. Vanguard Magnet programs are campus-wide programs, so the whole school is specifically for G/T students. The application process for vanguard magnet programs generally from standard magnet programs.
Houston ISD (HISD) structures its magnet programs in three different ways:
Within the three types of structures for magnet programs, HISD offers eight programs:
Click here for more information on public Vanguard and Magnet school programs' considerations for students with special needs.
STAAR (Standardized Testing)
According to No Child Left Behind, public schools have to show growth in English Language Arts and Mathematics. In order to accomplish this task, Texas public schools utilize standardized testing. Before the 2011-2012 academic year, Texas used the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). The TAKS test had grade specific tests, so everyone in the same grade took the same tests: English Language Arts (ELA), Social Studies, Mathematics, and Science. Passing all four tests at the exit level (11th grade) was a requirement for graduation.
Texas adopted the “State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness” (STAAR) test beginning in the 2011-2012 academic year. Grade specific tests will remain for grades 3 through 8. However, for high school, STAAR tests will be subject specific. High school students will take end of course exams in: Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, English I, English II, English III, World Geography, World History, and U.S. History. Currently, all three high school English tests and the elementary and middle school writing tests are given in the middle of March. All other tests are given at the end of April.
TEA is still debating how to grade the STAAR tests, and they probably will not decide until they have the test results from the next few years. (This is the first year of STAAR tests for grades 3-9. The classes of 2013 and 2014 are the last classes to take TAKS.) While passing STAAR tests will be a graduation requirement, TEA has not decided exactly which tests and how many the student has to pass in order to graduate high school.
For more information on ratings of select public schools, click here.
Funding and Budgets
Click here to read more about public school funding and budgets.
Article last updated on March 7, 2014.
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