Breckenridge Texan

BISD focuses on improvement after TEA accountability report

BISD focuses on improvement after TEA accountability report
September 25
15:05 2019

After Breckenridge’s North and East elementary schools received an “F” from the Texas Education Agency, the teachers and administrators are implementing a variety of things to try and remedy the problem that put them in the bottom 5 percent of Texas schools.

Although the Breckenridge Independent School District received an overall grade of a “B,” none of the individual schools earned that high of a score. In addition to North and East’s “F,” Breckenridge high school received a “C” with a score of 79 and the junior high and South Elementary received scores of “D.”

According to information released by BISD shortly after the results were announced, the “B” for the district reflects the district’s “attempts to improve the overall education of every student and every program, by implementing district-wide initiatives focusing on better instruction and better relationships with kids and parents.”

The scores are derived through what is described by most people involved as a complicated formula that takes into consideration scores on the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) test, how much the school has progressed over the past year, how specific groups of students performed in relation to state goals, as well as other factors.

Click the following link to open up a PDF showing the basic STAAR test results for BISD: BISD 2019 STAAR Results

While the TEA handed out grades for the districts last year, this is the first year that the individual campuses have received “A to F” grades.

More details on the grades and the system used to calculate the grades is available online at txschools.gov.

Click the following link to open a PDF comparing the TEA Accountability reports of several school districts in the region: Regional Accountability Report for 2019

What caused the low grades

According to Breckenridge Independent School District’s interim superintendent Earl Jarrett and Chief Learning Officer Molly Johnson, there are several factors that led to the failing grade, ranging from the quality of instruction that the students receive to the way the grade levels are grouped on the BISD campuses.

The administrators say that part of the low score that North and East received can be attributed to the fact that at North there is only one grade that is tested, therefore there is no improvement or progress score to help bring the grade up. Additionally, because there is no STAAR test given at East Elementary, the school is paired with North Elementary for the TEA grading process; East isn’t assessed on its own.

“One of the issues is the alignment of the campuses,” Jarrett explained. “One of the areas where you expect to see improvement is in the area of growth from a previous tested year. Because North Elementary only has one grade that’s tested, that part of this accountability system is not included in their evaluation. That’s kind of a big hit on that campus.”

Most school districts similar in size to BISD have only one elementary school, typically through the fifth grade. “The ratings would have come out much different had it not been for the way that the schools are aligned here,” he said.

However, both Jarrett and Johnson agree that there are problems within the local system that have led to the low scores, and they are working with the entire district to fix those problems.

“There are certain things that successful schools do,” Jarrett said. “I haven’t been here long enough to know what this district is doing with much specificity. But, I know there were some things they were doing right and there are some things we need to improve on.”

BISD’s Plan to Fix the Problems

The school district has been working since the summer and even earlier to improve the schools, Johnson said. “We are constantly in a continuous improvement plan,” Johnson said. “As school people, as administrators, we’re never satisfied. We’re always looking and evaluating and doing needs assessment on every program. It’s just a continual cycle.”

Jarrett said the district will continue to work to improve students’ skills through a variety of methods. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve heard on numerous occasions that our teachers work really hard, but we probably need to learn to work smarter,” Jarrett said. “So, I think that’s the direction that we’re going. If we have people that are really working hard, we want them to work smarter so that it will be reflected in student learning and consequently the scores on the test.”

One of the things the district has already started working on with the principals and their staffs is looking closely at student achievement data, Jarrett said.

For the grade levels that take the STAAR test, which begins in the third grade, the student achievement data comes from the STAAR test. For the younger grades that do not take the STAAR test, there are other assessments that are given to determine the readiness skills of the students.

Johnson said BISD administrators have researched the assessment tools that are approved by the State of Texas and are using a new assessment tool this year. “(We’re) hoping that will help us to really dig deeper and get some data that can really drive instruction,” she said.

After analyzing the information, the district will use it to help improve the teaching.

“The data is only valuable if you take that data and can analyze where you need to make change and improvement. One of the areas is obviously going to be in quality of instruction,” Jarrett said.

One of the things that has affected the district is a nationwide teacher shortage, Jarrett said. “There’s been a lot of turnover in the teaching staff in the district, and one of the ways to improve the schools is to retain quality teachers,” he said.

To help the teachers improve their teaching, BISD’s elementary schools now have a new lesson framework for the teachers to use so there will be continuity across the grade levels and from campus to campus, Johnson said. With the new program, the teachers will have a framework in which to build their lesson plans and the administration can see and share those lesson plans.

Part of the plan to improve BISD’s TEA scores includes regular assessment to make sure the teachers are teaching the necessary information. “The way to keep people accountable is to build in systems which include calendars of assessment,” Jarrett said. “So, we’re going to have to some periodic assessment to make sure that we’re teaching the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), which is the state curriculum in Texas.

“We have talked with the principals and they are working to make sure that we are re-teaching and spiraling back in those areas where we’re weak throughout the year, so that we’re consistently teaching that curriculum that will be tested,” he said.

Part of the solution also is to make sure that the students have good test-taking skills.

“We’re not ‘teaching to the test,’ we’re teaching a state-mandated curriculum,” Jarrett said, addressing concerns that some people have about teaching students how to take standardized tests.

There are some test-taking skills that, if the students understand, can help them to better succeed at the test, he explained. “Consequently, we do teach some of those skills,” Jarrett said.

The importance of reading

Although the STAAR test results show similar results in both reading and math, BISD is putting special emphasis on reading this year.

“It is imperative that we get children to grade level. Up to the third grade, we teach them to read. After that, they read to learn,” Jarrett said.

In addition to the assessments and lesson plans, the district also introduced a new reading resource this year, a phonics program that Johnson said will help the students improve their reading skills.

“Most people think of a reading test as a merely reading comprehension. There is considerably more to this test than just comprehension,” Jarrett said. “So, the students have to understand things like genres of literature, they have to determine … the author’s purpose, they have to infer from a passage what the author’s intent is. It’s challenging.”

In the past few years, BISD has been adding local events and activities to help encourage the young people of the community to read.

For the past three years, Abby Moore, the South Elementary librarian, has organized a Buckaroo Book Night at the football stadium. The event brings together community members of all ages to listen to local celebrities read aloud their favorite children’s books, as well as to simply enjoy reading with their family and friends. The Book Night includes a book swap and other literary-related activities. This year’s event is tentatively planned for late October.

Also, at the end of the 2017-18 school year, East and North elementary schools used their summer school money to buy books for their students. Every student in the two schools was allowed to pick out a variety of books to keep.

Then, throughout June, the schools hosted lunch in the park once a week and offered more books for those who attended.

School meetings

On Thursday, Sept. 19, the principals at North and East elementary schools held a meeting for parents in which they explained the Targeted Improvement Plan they have developed and will submit to TEA.

Part of the plan includes the two schools – East Elementary, which is for children in Early Education through the first grade, and North Elementary, which is for students in second and third grades – to work more closely to provide a smooth transition from one campus to the next as the students progress. East Principal Barbara Collinsworth and North Principal Prairie Freeman have worked together to set goals, a vision and mission plan for the schools.

As Johnson discussed above, the plan involves continual assessment of the students’ progress so that the teaching strategies can be adjusted to solve any problems that arise. Additionally, teachers will be submitting detailed lesson plans to administrators who will provide feedback and direction.

There also will be regular teacher training in the new programs the schools are implementing.

On Thursday, Oct. 3, South Elementary will host a public meeting about that school’s accountability grade. The meeting will include information on South’s Targeted Improvement Plan, as well as information on the Title 1 program. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. in the South Elementary cafeteria.

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, Breckenridge Junior High School will have a meeting to discuss the school’s Targeted Improvement Plan with parents. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. in Room 1 of BJHS.

Community involvement

Jarrett said there are several things that families can do to help the school district in ensuring the best education for the community’s children.

Jarrett said parents, grandparents or guardians can practice the following steps to help their children:

  1. When your child gets home from school, ask them about what they did at school that day. Ask them what they learned.
  2. Have your child read for at least 30 minutes a day.
  3. When they get older, provide a quiet, clean environment for them to do their homework.

Looking forward

Both Jarrett and Johnson are confident that BISD can improve its students’ test scores and other learning indicators; however, Jarrett acknowledges that it will take some time and dedication from everyone involved.

“There are some systemic issues, and it will take some time to correct them,” he said. “The way to correct systemic issues is to put processes and procedures in place that, over time, will make the appropriate corrections.”

Jarrett said that he believes that the district can improve its TEA grade. “I have observed that we have principals with the capability to implement that change to be successful,” he said. “I have been in the buildings. I have been in the team and planning meetings. I will get in some classrooms. At this point, I am impressed with the diligence of the administration and staff to improve the quality of instruction.”

At the BISD Board of Trustees meeting earlier this month, Johnson presented the TEA report to trustees and explained some of the issues and solutions the administrators are working on. Trustee Carrol Kanady asked Jarrett if he had experienced similar problems in the past. In answer to her question, he said: “Do I know how to improve? Yes…. It’s about a lot of things. It’s about culture, number one. The number one thing you have to convince everybody is these kids – not can learn – but will learn. There’s no exceptions. We’re going to make sure that our kids learn.

“And, they’ve been telling us for years what’s going to be tested. So, number two, it’s making sure that you’re actually teaching what’s going to be tested,” Jarrett continued. “And we’ve gotta play that game. I think it’s important for the community. When people look at a community and see those scores, it’s important. It’s important for teacher retention. So, we’re committed. You create systems and processes that just become part of your educational process, and they outlast principals and they outlast superintendents because your teachers will uphold that as they feel that efficacy from being successful, they’ll make sure it keeps happening. And, I have confidence these people can do that.”

East Elementary Principal Barbara Collinsworth talks to parents who attended a meeting on Sept. 19 about the plans she and other administrators are making to improve the school’s TEA grade. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Story by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: North Elementary Principal Prairie Freeman explains some of the new procedures North and East elementary schools are implementing to try and bring up the failing grade that the schools received from the Texas Education Agency. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

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