Two weeks after the Texas Education Agency released letter grades and number scores for school districts and campuses across the state, San Antonio’s two lowest-performing school districts – Edgewood and South San Antonio independent school districts – are making adjustments.
The two districts each scored a D grade. Combined, the districts have 11 campuses that the TEA deemed failing.
When Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath introduced the accountability system in early August, he spoke optimistically about its potential to show academic growth. While districts and their schools were previously rated on a pass-fail basis, they are now graded on a 0 to 100 scale. Morath argues that the accountability system better illustrates nuance and development when educators work to make positive changes.
Both Edgewood and South San ISDs are trying to do exactly that, implementing significant changes following the release of the accountability ratings.
In South San Antonio ISD, the improvement strategy is focused on data. In June, the district purchased a new software analysis system called Eukolos, which was created by educators in Richardson ISD in North Texas less than one year ago.
To estimate an individual student’s potential for growth, Eukolos factors in historic testing data, reading level, and demographic information, including whether or not a student qualifies as economically disadvantaged, as an English-language learner, or to receive special education.
The software predicts how much a student can grow within one year and then uses testing data, primarily from STAAR tests, to show how well a student performed based on his or her determined potential. This data can be used to show how well a teacher helps individual students grow, a student’s growth, or performance on individual state standards.
“Instead of us just spraying and praying and painting everything with one brush, it is teachers going into the data with their specific instructional practices and identifying how that [student expectation] is assessed,” South San Chief Academic Officer Delinda Castro said.
Castro said the system allows her district to connect teachers who are struggling to teach specific standards with teachers who are excelling in that area. It also allows teachers to identify which students are underperforming and investigate the cause.
While Eukolos relies largely on STAAR exam results, South San will also use a series of tests throughout the year to get a pulse check on student performance. The district will identify questions to test concepts that students struggled with during the previous year and give them to campuses to use on a quiz or test.
The district will then feed the results to Eukolos to get an up-to-date indication of how students are performing.
Castro said the availability of this data is “everything” to South San.
“Before I even go to a school to walk a classroom, I am looking at the Eukolos data, [to see] how this teacher has done,” she said.
In Edgewood ISD, administrators have taken a different approach to improving student performance.
The district’s central office recently added two new positions: an elementary and secondary chief of schools. The new administrators’ jobs are to coach principals on improving management practices, boosting student achievement, and enhancing school culture, Edgewood Superintendent Eduardo Hernandez said.
The chiefs of schools will work with principals on refining each school’s professional learning community by improving a regular meeting the principals hold with teams of teachers to strategize about growth areas.
“If you are bringing all the second-grade teachers together…First of all, do we understand all the resources in the district?” Hernandez said. “We have a curriculum-management program that goes very deep on how to understand standards. … Do we know how to use that?”
In addition, Hernandez said his district is working hard to educate the school board, teachers and principals, and parents and constituents about what exactly the accountability system means.
At the district’s last work session, Hernandez said the board learned what goes into the accountability system. Members of the board of managers learned about how student achievement is measured. This process will continue for parts of the system that measure student progress and closing the achievement gap at future work sessions.
One of Edgewood’s top priorities is the college, career, and military readiness rates that factor into student achievement at high school campuses, Hernandez said. By understanding what earns a school or district points in this area under the accountability system, Edgewood can refocus its efforts to encourage students to take college courses or specific electives.