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LISD kids beat state testing standards

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By LPR Staff

Editor/POST-REGISTER

 

The odds were against them.

Challenged by ever-changing testing standards, and plagued by administrative chaos within the District, the students of the Lockhart Independent School District were expected to falter on the 2015 scoring of the state-mandated STAAR test.

The students of LISD proved t

heir naysayers wrong.

According to details released by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and LISD earlier this month, Lockhart’s students not only “Met Standards” at every campus, but each campus also earned at least one “distinction,” generally exceeding State standards and out-performing other students in the 40-campus educational districts organized by TEA for comparisons.

“The most exciting thing about this data is that it shows that our kids are moving forward,” said Dr. Pam Johnson, the District’s Director of Instructional Technology. “It shows that we are able to look at the data from previous years, and use that data to focus on where we need improvement.”

Indeed, Johnson said on Tuesday, the structure of the state-generated data serves the purpose of showing what the children are learning, as well as the areas where they need additional help.

In no way is that evidence more clear than the results provided this year by Lockhart High School, which not only met standards, but achieved two “Distinctions,” including a “Top 25 Percent in Student Progress,” distinction, which means that LHS students were more effective in student growth (improvement in scores from last year’s testing cycle) than 75 percent of the students in the TEA comparative group.

Bluebonnet Elementary earned the same distinction, a feat seen within Central Office as impressive, because both of the schools were on the 2014 “PEG” (Public Education Grant) list, indicating they were in desperate need of improvement in testing scores.

“I’ve always said that we have the hardest-working principals, teachers and students in the world,” said Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Janie Wright. “This proves it. Those principals, teachers and kids used that information from the PEG list, figured out what went wrong, and found a way to fix it.”

TEA judges school districts on four performance indices:

-Student Achievement (overall scoring on STAAR tests);

-Student Progress (improvement over the prior years’ scoring);

-Closing Performance Gaps (equalizing scoring between all race, gender and socioeconomic groups); and

-Post-Secondary Readiness (college preparedness).

In all indices, at all campuses, the students of LISD far exceeded state standards, most notably at Pride High School, where the Post-Secondary Readiness scores exceeded state standards by nearly 200 percent.

“That score should change the perception that some people have of Pride,” Johnson said. “Some people seem to think that we aren’t getting those kids ready for college, but we are. [Pride principal Sam] Lockhart makes sure that every student that graduates from Pride either has the college credits, or is ready to be accepted into ACC, if that’s the path they choose.”

Despite the fact that all four of Lockhart’s elementary campuses not only met their performance standards, but also earned distinctions, the LISD Board of Trustees, as well as members of the community, have expressed concern about the disparity of scoring across the campuses.

Indeed, Wright said, the fact that the campuses earned distinctions in different areas shows the students are performing differently, and has spurred a collaborative effort between the campuses to normalize performance.

“We know that if this campus is performing well in science, and this one in math, that we can take that information and figure out how to bring all of the campuses up to earn all six distinctions,” Wright said.

“In the Curriculum Department, we have worked out a schedule that will bring that teaching more in line,” Johnson added.

While both agree that teaching methodology should be left to the principals and teachers at each campus, who are familiar with their students, their strengths and weaknesses, each campus is now working from a “master calendar” that requires a specific schedule and time frame for teaching subject matter. How that subject matter is taught, of course, is left to campus-level directives. However, the students will be subject to “cycle testing,” to show the subject matter is being taught in a timely fashion.

“That kind of test might only be 10 questions,” Johnson said. “And the purpose of those tests is to keep the students together, so we know they are learning the same things across the District. This way, two cousins who go to different schools, but maybe stay with the same grandparents after school, can do their homework together and they are both working on the same things at the same time.”

Both Johnson and Wright expressed concern that the community might misread the testing scores, mistaking the performance indices for percentages, when the mathematical formula for processing the scores is much more complicated.

“It’s not a straight average, it’s not just a percentage,” Wright said. “A lot of different data goes into determining the scores, and the target is always moving.”

“But that’s what I love about it,” Johnson concluded. “The way they determine accountability ratings now, it’s so complicated that there is no way to ‘cook the books’ (in reference to scandals that broke last year that teachers and administrators throughout Central Texas had found ways to manipulate state scoring standards). There is no way to manipulate these scores, so the only thing we can do to make sure our kids are meeting standards is to continue teaching our kids, every day.”

That, after all, is the point, the pair agreed. As long as the teachers are teaching and the students are learning, the state-mandated scoring methods will take care of themselves.

Editor’s Note – The TEA’s accountability reports are available online at www.tea.state.tx.us.

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