Area school districts respond to new TEA ratings



New this year is the A-F accountability rating system, to rate all multi-campus school districts and charters.

The 85th Texas Legislature passed House Bill 22, establishing three domains for measuring the academic performance of districts and campuses: Student Achievement, School Progress, and Closing the Gaps.

 Student Achievement evaluates performance across all subjects for all students, on both general and alternate assessments, College, Career, and Military Readiness indicators, and graduation rates.

 School Progress measures district and campus outcomes in two areas: the number of students that grew at least one year academically (or are on track) as measured by STAAR results and the achievement of all students relative to districts or campuses with similar economically disadvantaged percentages.

 Closing the Gaps uses disaggregated data to demonstrate differentials among racial/ethnic groups, socioeconomic backgrounds and other factors. The indicators included in this domain, as well as the domain’s construction, align the state accountability system with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

TEA COMMENTS

According to Gene Acuña of the Texas Education Agency, “The system used to this point was a pass/fail type system. Almost all districts and campuses received a Met Standard or Improvement Required rating. It provided little information in regard to whether a district or campus was doing extremely well, barely meeting standard, barely missing standard or needed a lot of additional support. The A-F system provides a tiered evaluation. It is also based on a system we all remember from our school days. We are familiar with what an ‘A’ means and what a ‘B’ means and so forth. More importantly, as the system remains in place, it will provide a solid year-over-year comparison so parents, educators, district leaders and the community can see if a district or campus is getting better, about the same or needs some support in specific areas.”

TEA explained that each individual campus received a “Met Standard,” “Not Rated” or “Improvement Required.”

PLEASANTON ISD

Pleasanton ISD received a C rating (Acceptable Performance) overall, specifically 78 out of 100. All PISD campuses received a Met Standard rating and Pleasanton High School was awarded a Distinction Designation in Post Secondary Readiness. The Postsecand ondary Readiness distinction takes into account factors such as graduation rates, ACT/SAT participation and performance, Career and Technical Education (CTE) graduates, and dual-credit course completion rates.

Pleasanton ISD Superintendent Dr. Matthew Mann explained that Student Achievement and School Progress add up to 70 percent of the overall score, while Closing the Gaps is 30 percent.

“We used to have, “No Child Left Behind,” well that has been replaced with “Every Student Succeeds Act” and that is a little bit different. They have added some more indicators,” said Mann.

He explained that since changes were made to the TELPAS (Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment), the assessment used for limited English students, TEA had asked not to include those results. Therefore, last year’s TELPAS scores were used for this year’s accountability.

Mann also mentioned other challenges this year, such as the large group of schools not graded because they were given exemptions due to Hurricane Harvey as well as glitches with some of the computers online.

Mann added, “We have been very pleased with our improvement. We went from having an “Improvement Required” campus to receiving Met Standard at all our campuses. Our Elementary school had double digit growth in multiple areas, so we were very excited about that. We had 18 out of the 22 STAAR areas that we improved on. We went from a total student achievement of a 74 last year to a 79 this year, so we improved across the board. All of our overall ratings, our student achievement, our academic growth, our relative performance, closing the gaps, all of those are in the high 70s.

“So when you look at Pleasanton ISD we got 78 out of 100, giving us a C. If you look at neighboring districts, Jourdanton, they got an 80 and Poteet did very well, too, they got a 78.

“We all have different struggles and different things that we are working on and highlighting, but we were very proud of all of our scores, that had all seen improvements, every campus, but we are especially proud of the high school. The high school did really well and earned their first distinction in Post Secondary Readiness, which is a great feather in our cap, and Mrs. Guajardo’s. We were are very proud of that and that is through the work of CTE Director Mrs. Tullos and all of our CTE teachers.”

“We scored in the top quartile, so within our comparison group, we did really well,” said Mann.

One of the factors of Post Secondary Readiness is the graduation rate and Pleasanton’s graduation rate is 98.4 percent, higher than the state average.

Regarding the new rating system Mann shared, “It’s been such a moving target. From its inception, this accountability system is only 18 months old. So you think about it on those terms and try to figure out what gets included, what doesn’t get included.”

He commended the TEA Commissioner for gathering input from educators and Region Service Centers. Mann met with the Commissioner in groups, two or three different times, which he said was amazing. That had not happened prior with his predecessor.

“So we have been very excited about having that communication line open. I think he is open to hearing what we have to say. My problem is more of the idea of taking an entire school district, five campuses and boiling it down to one letter grade. That is pretty difficult.”

Mann spoke about the PISD Convocation on Aug. 24, which showcased great examples of excellence.

“You had the JROTC, the band, and all of our students thanked a myriad of teachers. Some of them were science teachers, math teachers, some Primary teachers.”

Another drawback in the ratings is that there is a large group of students that do not take the STAAR test, so they aren’t even included in that.

“I do believe in accountability. It’s necessary to make sure that we are doing what we need to do for our students, but I don’t think that sometimes boiling things down to letter grades is always the answer,” Mann said.

He asked about extremely large districts that have hundreds of thousands of students and many schools, like Northside ISD.

“That sounds pretty difficult, to make an accurate assessment of an entire district. It’s one system, it’s the system that we have. We’re proud of our results and the growth that we’ve done, so we are just going to continue to do right by our kids, but we focus in on things such as literacy, writing, and understanding being on grade level.”

Among Mann’s goals is making sure economically disadvantaged kids are performing near and close to students that are more affluent.

“We think that those are good goals. We feel that kids working at or above grade level at 80 percent is good, because that impacts pre-k to 12. I know what a pre-k is supposed to be performing at, so we know what that standard is, so let’s make sure we are hitting it and that we’re doing the things that we need to do. Let’s do those program evaluations. We felt that those are a little bit better indicators for the district to grow and to look at, than just solely STAAR results. Plus, those are one test, one day. We’re about finding out where the student is at continuously through the year and as they are growing.”

“We want to make sure that they are growing and progressing like they are supposed to, so we can have high graduation rates, so they can have skills that they need to be able to be employed in the workforce and productive members of the society and the community.”

Mann’s other long-range goals include making sure students have nine or so dual credit hours, or they have certification in an industry that they can make a living at, or they are able to enlist in the military. All of those areas are outlined by the commissioner as areas of Post Secondary Readiness.

CTE classes allow students a real sense of what it might be like when they get out of high school and see if it is something they are good at, explained Mann, whether it be ag-focused, JROTC, etc.

“We’ve targeted some of those with our bond. So we’ve outfitted the ag facility and invested a lot of money there. We’ve invested a lot of money in our culinary program, our medical also. We’ve got the CNA program that we work with Coastal Bend College with, which has been highly successful. Our business program and JROTC, those have been big, big programs for us. We are really proud of all of those.

In this area, ag mechanics, welding and healthcare are in high demand.

“Coupled with our technology initiatives, we want to basically augment those programs. Those things are there to help them create that interest and hopefully stay current with the technology to where they go into a business setting or into a Post-Secondary educational setting that they can have the skills in order to compete with other kids around them, so that is important for us.”

Mann also discussed that his doctoral thesis was on rural education and one of things that can be difficult for schools in rural communities is students leaving and not coming home.

“And so we really are starting to create an environment where kids have such a good experience and feel prepared and go and do well in college and postsecondary, the military, etc. and they want to come home and raise their kids in Pleasanton because they have those fond memories. They want that for their own family and maybe they work in town or they work in San Antonio or and they live here in Pleasanton. I’ve hired so many teachers that have come home.”

He spoke of the large alumni photo taken after the Convocation event.

“I think that is a great indicator that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and I think that is important. We are blessed where we are close to San Antonio and you can have different types of careers and still be able to commute and have that small town lifestyle that I think we all like because we’re here.” Pleasanton’s close proximity to San Antonio and an international airport makes it a desirable area to live in.

“We work closely with the city, too, to know what’s happening with new businesses that are coming in. I get a lot of people that come to visit from other places that comment on how much we have to offer in such a small town and they are very surprised at the number of restaurants, the shops and different things that we have here. That is a real blessing and I think that sometimes we forget that there are a lot of towns that don’t have what we have for a town this size.”

CHARLOTTE ISD

Charlotte ISD received a C rating overall (Acceptable Performance), receiving a score of 70 out of 100. Charlotte High School and Charlotte Middle School each received a Met Standard rating and Charlotte Elementary received an Improvement Required rating.

Charlotte Middle School was awarded a Distinction Designation in Post Secondary Readiness.

Regarding the new rating system, Charlotte Elementary Principal Laura Mikolajczyk said, “You asked me if I thought the ratings were fair. The situation is that we have what we have. We take that and we deal with it. I’ve been in education for awhile and I think that schools have to be held accountable for all children. That’s only fair and I don’t know if we have figured it quite out, but you know what, we will step up to that challenge and we will get them there. The teachers will get them there.”

Charlotte ISD Superintendent Mario Sotelo said, “We just wish we understood it better. We’re talking about how they do the scoring, but we’re not debating it. We will deal with it.”

Mikolajczyk added, “It is definitely not quite as clear-cut as an A, B, C, D and F.”

“It sounds real simple, but you do realize that the manual to interpret the scores is 194 pages long? So, it sounds really simple, but it really isn’t,” said Sotelo. “So we feel really confident that we will be able to improve.”

Mikolajczyk explained every year you write a campus plan and you look at improvement and the areas that, according to data, are strong and weak.

“So you are always looking at how to improve, we had already looked at that,” she said.

Mikolajczyk had a specialist come in February, particularly in the English Language Arts/Reading (ELAR) area. That was used to plan the beginning of this school year.

“They met with the teachers in August. Using our data, they met with each individual teacher, planning and implementing what’s required” Mikolajczyk said.

So they were already focusing on ELAR which has been the school’s weakest area, as well as the state’s.

Sotelo added, “One of the things we have not had is enough resources. The last couple of years we have had a really tight budget. Two years ago we lost a million dollars, so we had to have a budget that was a million dollar deficit. This year has been a little bit better, but the board did vote to have an election. It is going to be a Tax Ratification Election. That will generate about $400,000 extra for us to operate on.”

The other item that the board voted to do was to have an election for construction, in the amount of $5 million.

“I can’t tell you what it’s going to entail right now, but I can tell you that I have a list I have put together. What we will do is get the staff, because I always believe in collaboration, and we are going to visit with the staff and each campus is going to be charged with the duty of prioritizing their needs,” Sotelo said.

They could have possibly gone higher, said Sotelo, but the board did not want to burden the taxpayers anymore than necessary.

The election will be during the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

“The bond will be for $6 million and the Tax Ratification Election will be for 13 cents, which means the tax rate will be increased by 13 cents. That would actually give us some breathing room in our budget, and we’ll be able to fund some of the resources that the campuses have not been able to acquire,” said Sotelo.

He pointed out that the school has good contacts with Region 20, which keeps the school in mind when there are grants and other opportunities. They had just finished talking to Region 20 that came to offer services that are part of their job and the school was also given the opportunity for a training session in Writing.

“That will get us going in the right direction to what all needs to be done, and we are ready to do whatever it takes,” said Sotelo.

Sotelo and Mikolajczyk outlined the plans for improvement specific to ELAR and continued improvement in the area of Math.

“This is what I presented to Mr. Sotelo. These are the things we are continuing to do and we are implementing to strength the Reading and the Writing support,” said Mikolajczyk.

Plans include:

 August in-service with ELAR and Math Specialist from Region 20. All grade level teachers participated in two days of differentiated targeted training. The specialist used end of year data, including STAAR data and other assessment data, to guide and coach teachers’ planning using the TEKS Resource System to address specific grade level needs for depth and rigor. Specialists will return to continue to coach teachers in their classrooms for best practice methods of instruction and continued planning with rigor.

 Some schedules have been adjusted and teaching realigned in the following ways to target more specifically and provide more in class support:

-Half a day ELAR reading specialist will concentrate on inclusion based practices to plan, coach, support and instruct students and teachers during the guided reading block for grade levels secondfourth grades.

-Dyslexia reading specialist will target skills based on data for students in kinder through first. She will also continue to screen and service students as required by TEA and dyxlexia guidelines.

-Response to Intervention times will continue to be specified per grade level. Specific skill driven interventions will occur based on student data. Professionals and paraprofessionals will be made available as much as possible to keep low numbers in those target groups and to continue to progress in Tier 1.

-Para-librarian will be trained to conduct lessons and interventions on specific reading comprehension skills during the library time as well as intervention times for the students in Tier 1 to enhance and extend the classroom learning.

 All teachers will participate in a book study on “Units of Study in the Primary Classroom Growing Readers,” conducted by Region 20. They will follow up and coach several teachers with planning and implementing these research based practices in the classroom. On-site and distance support and coaching will be provided beginning in the fall semester.

 Each grade level will have students continue to track their data as well as teachers will continue to track classroom/grade level data to drive planning and decisions.

 Accelerated Reader will continue to be used and enhanced to encourage and track independent reading. All reachers received additional professional development on AR in August specific to data form the reports, tracking progress and setting goals.

 Computer intervention based programs will be continued in both ELAR and Math.

 Teachers will continue to target specific historic “weak” areas in Reading, Writing and Math as it aligns to their grade level.

 Math interventions will continue targeting specific skills based on data using professionals as well as para-professionals, as appropriate. Each grade level has times set aside for these intervention times and guided math small group times.

 Superintendent and principal have signed up for required imporvement training on Aug. 30.

*Principal will attend curriculum forums at Region 20 to obtain the latest curricullum updates and methods.

 Charlotte Elementary has expresed interest in participating in an opportunity to be selected for a grant that is based around the Japanese Lesson Study in the area of writing for the spring semester More information on this will be given as it is provided to Charlotte.

PSPS will be selected as required for 75 hours. We are in the process of selecting an appropriate PSP for Charlotte Elementary’s teachers, staff and students.

“We always want the positive to be talked about, too. I know that STAAR can bring out positive when it is good, and it can bring out the negative when it’s not, but that doesn’t mean that the kids aren’t worthy. It doesn’t mean that the teachers aren’t worthy or that the district isn’t worthy. It just means that on that given day at that time, that is what happened,” Mikolajczyk.

Sotelo echoed that the bottom line is that the test is 70 percent of the score. So if you do well on the test, you are going to do okay. There are other things TEA is looking at, but it is only 30.

“We don’t have any complaints, we just need to do things to make it better for the kids,” Sotelo said.

Mikolajczyk said, We have excellent teachers that believe in the kids and want nothing more than their success. I mean that completely, they are very good and very dedicated.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Following the release of the 2018 state accountability ratings by the Texas Education Agency on Aug. 15, the Pleasanton Express contacted area superintendents for their comments and whether they considered the new ratings to be fair. This week we will feature Pleasanton and Charlotte ISD with Jourdanton, Poteet, McMullen County ISD to follow.

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