The Southside Independent School District improved its state accountability rating based on standardized test scores to a B from the C it received in 2019, the last time the state issued ratings for schools and districts, according to preliminary results.
Students did not take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Texas Education Agency administered the standardized exams last year but did not use the test scores to rate schools and districts on an A-F scale. This is the first year the state will rate campuses and districts based on the test results.
Southside ISD Superintendent Rolando Ramirez credited the improved test scores to the hard work of students and staff, who he said have gone “back to just basic best practices” of constantly reviewing and revising curriculum to meet students’ needs and collaborating among educators to make sure students were catching up on skills they may have missed during virtual instruction.
“As a team throughout the year, we just tweaked whatever needed to be revised in our approach,” he said.
Overall, the preliminary STAAR score projections for the district of roughly 5,600 students show Southside ISD no longer has any campuses rated F, Ramirez said. In 2019, five campuses received an F rating and two got a C. This year, Heritage Elementary has an A rating, while the other six campuses received a B.
Terrena Bernal, a fifth grade teacher at Heritage, said she was able to help her 18 students accomplish so much learning they may have missed in the past two school years with virtual instruction because she also had these students in fourth grade.
“There were a lot of gaps, but I was able to come and close them because I was able to know what their needs were because I was their teacher last year,” she said.
But Bernal, Southside’s teacher of the year, also told her students how much the STAAR mattered because it would show her and their future teachers where they are at academically. She explained to them how each lesson fit into the categories in which they would be tested, demonstrated testing strategies and showed them where they struggled and how much progress they made throughout the school year.
“I tell them, no one will ever truly understand where you are, unless we have some type of measure to look at,” she said. “When I think about testing, I know it’s important because I need to figure out how I can make those changes to get them where they need to be. But I guess it also comes with knowing that it’s all built up for them. We have to have this in order to know did they actually grow? How is our school actually performing? How are we actually educating our students?”
Bernal also doesn’t deny the importance of these exams for her students. She tells them straightforwardly that these tests are important not only for their own academic progress but for the school and the district. That is why she consistently invested them in their own learning, showing them the areas in which they needed to improve and sharing with them the gains they made.
“That’s the only way they’re going to be successful,” she said.