As STAAR results for all grades came in this week, Tyler ISD saw significantgains at its elementary schools, but setbacks among older students.
Dr. Christy Hanson, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said the results are indicative of the success they’re seeing as the district has focused on early reading skills. The setbacks are a manifestation of the struggles the district saw before its recent academic turnaround, she said.
The good news is end-of-year metrics, which will be used in the Texas Education Agency’s Accountability Ratings, show Tyler ISD might have a shot at getting its three remaining campuses off of the “Improvement Required” list.
Three years ago the district had 11 schools listed as “Improvement Required” on the Texas Education Agency’s accountability rating, which are based on a wide range of performance factors. All were elementary and middle schools. Last year the district dropped to three “Improvement Required” campuses, but the students who were in elementary and middle school when the campuses were struggling are now in middle and high school, where those skill gaps are in danger of getting worse.
“Years ago when we had a lot of low-performing schools, we are (now) seeing the results of that low level reading skills manifest themselves in middle and high school,” she said. “With secondary reading and math they’re really struggling. What we’re having to do is go back and teach foundational skills.”
Hanson said the challenge the district faces is not only catching those students up, but also ensuring they manage to get in a year of growth as well.
Hanson said the district had been tracking these issues and is undergoing major structural changes as a response.
When classes resume in the fall, parents will no longer see Response To Intervention specialists on campus. These specialists worked with struggling students by engaging in targeted group instruction and one-on-one tutoring.
The district has switched to a system that uses Master Teachers, who will focus on teacher growth so classroom teachers can better intervene.
The change will help teachers learn to intervene more proactively than reactively, Hanson said. The previous system saw struggling students pulled out of class during instructional time, which was causing setbacks of its own.
“When they were pulled out they were missing important content; you can see how that would perpetuate a problem,” Hanson said. “Master teachers may be doing intervention, but their primary job will be to build teacher capacity.”
All RTI specialists were asked to interview for the Master Teacher position or any others for which they are qualified.
Intervention now will take place during either scheduled classroom time for intervention and enrichment or in homerooms, dependent upon the campus and grade level.
The largest drops at the middle school level come from math scores. Hanson said this is a side effect of the students not getting the reading skills they needed in earlier grades.
When reading scores begin to climb, math scores follow, she said.
The worst news comes from the high schools, with results showing losses in every category. Algebra scores saw decreases of more than 50 percent at both John Tyler and Robert E. Lee High Schools.
THE SILVER LINING
Because State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) results are just one of many metrics used to determine accountability ratings, the district is expected to continue its improvements when official accountability results are released in August.
Other factors used in Accountability Ratings include postsecondary readiness, graduation rate, closing achievement gaps and more.
“Based on projections, we have good news coming,” Hanson said. “One of the nice things about those ratings is it looks at how we’re helping kids and let’s us see what’s working.”
Of the three campuses on last year’s “Improvement Required” list, projections indicate Griffin and Jones Elementary Schools showed across-the-board growth. Dogan Middle School held steady.
The biggest improvements seen on this year’s STAAR testing comes from third-grade reading, which was up at most schools. Griffin, Douglas and Bonner each saw increases of 40 percent or more, while Ramey Elementary saw a 76 percent increase over last year.
As Hanson predicted, the math scores followed those reading increases. Douglas saw a 43 percent increase in third-grade math, while Griffin improved by 51 percent.
At the middle school level, Dogan saw the largest increases in seventh-grade reading and writing.
It is still too early to tell whether these improvements will be enough to get Tyler ISD’s last “Improvement Required” campuses off the list, but Hanson is optimistic.
Going into the 2017-18 year, the district’s main priority will be eliminating skills gaps and ensuring students are college and career ready.
Hanson said the high schools also will be putting more focus on academic and leadership programs, as well as increasing tutoring.
Statewide STAAR results comparisons are expected by the end of June.