Community coming together to help schools

With Ector County Independent School District campuses underperforming, a cross-section of professionals from across the Odessa community, dubbed the Education Partnership, is coming together to help in whatever way they can.

The Education Partnership features a cross-section of leaders including members from the education, business, government, law enforcement, foundation, nonprofit and religious communities. About 35 people attended the gathering at Complex Community Federal Credit Union Training Center.

The goal of the Education Partnership is to encourage a common understanding of the educational issues and challenges facing the community, from cradle to career, and to work collaboratively to help solve these issues, using the Collective Impact model.

The Collective Impact model is based on a “framework that focuses on bringing members from different sectors within a community together to drive large scale social change,” such as education, a news release said.

Consultant Jennifer Hurd, who was most recently with Boston Consulting, presented a student performance analysis for ECISD based on 2017 STAAR, or State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, scores. Hurd had presented the information to the ECISD school board in November 2017, but reviewed it for the Education Partnership Leadership team Tuesday.

ECISD is facing a significant challenge with academic underperformance, the report said. During the last five years, ECISD has underperformed the state in every subject and every grade level. The gap between the Texas average and the ECISD average is improving, but there is “still significant room for progress,” the report said.

In the last five years, the best performance was 2017 across grade levels. Hurd said the STAAR test is not perfect and is not an indication of intelligence or talent, but the data shows that more has to be done.

The report notes that there are strong schools and teachers at the elementary level, but performance varies widely. A handful of schools “consistently score far above average, with almost 100 percent of students passing the STAAR exam at every grade level,” the report said.

The lowest performing schools struggle to achieve a 35 to 40 percent passing rate.

“The difference is particularly acute in the later elementary years (grades three through five),” the report said.

Hurd said students also come to kindergarten unprepared.

Middle schools are “severely underperforming,” Hurd said.

There is a “significant decrease” in performance following the move of sixth grade to middle schools. One of the bright spots is Algebra I scores at each school.

In third-grade reading, the ECISD average is 63 percent passing and the state average is 71 percent, Hurd’s report shows.

Fourth-grade reading has a 55 percent passing rate compared to the state average of 69 percent.

In fifth-grade reading, the passing rate was 57 percent for ECISD in 2017 and 71 percent for the state.

The sixth-grade reading pass rate was 47 percent compared to 67 percent at the state level, a 20 percent difference and seventh grade was up to a 21 percent difference with 51 percent passing in ECISD compared to 72 percent for the state. Eight-grade reading showed a 15 percent difference with 61 percent passing reading in ECISD and 76 percent for the state.

Hurd said the kindergarten teachers are doing a good job and closing the gaps for reading scores. She added that some schools are doing “extremely well.” But the differences in grades three through five should be examined.

With middle school students, there is less of a difference as all of the schools are underperforming the state average. Hurd said the difference is less at Nimitz Middle School, but with Ector Middle School for example, they take students from underperforming elementary schools.

She noted that there are “extremely bright” students at all the campuses.

“We need to see what we can do to help the performance” of the other students, Hurd said.

Performance in high school is not quite as strong, but student performance is strong at the smaller campuses like Falcon Early College High School, OCTECHS and George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa.

The quality of teachers, family life, what’s going on in the students’ lives are examples of items that factor into student performance, Hurd said. The group should look at what it can be done in the later elementary schools grades to help teachers reach students more and improve their scores.

Leadership team member Lorraine Perryman said teachers make a huge difference. She said the district has a lot of new teachers, teachers with alternative certification and a lot of teacher turnover.

Superintendent Tom Crowe said “30-some” percent of teachers have three to five years of experience.

Hurd said the district’s underperformance has been going on for a while, but fortunately, it seems to be improving based on 2017.

“Hopefully that improvement will continue into 2018. It is something that I think the community is willing and highly interested in addressing,” she said.

Hurd said she couldn’t speak to why the underperformance had happened historically, but the community is “finally saying that it’s had enough and that it wants to partner in a more intimate way with the school district to try and see if, collectively, they can improve the school performance.”

It’s hard to assess the reason for underperformance using the kind of analysis in her report. The data shows what’s happened, but it shows less about what went into making it happen.

It does show how well prepared the students are in each grade going into the following grade.

“So what we can see is students are coming in not as prepared as they should be for kindergarten and then that’s leading to underperformance in elementary school which then leads to underperformance in middle school and so on and so forth,” Hurd said.

“It doesn’t tell us what the teachers are doing. It doesn’t tell us how each individual student’s year went in terms of what was happening … at home. That is something that we are relying on the teachers and on the principals and each of the individual schools to address. But it tells us a little more about where their performance ends up at the end of the year,” she added.

Adrian Vega, a former educator and now chief people officer at The Sewell Family of Companies, led the meeting. Vega said collective impact provides a framework, or a model, to bring varying influencers and institutions “to at least point them in the same direction.”

At this point, the goals have not been defined because Tuesday was just the second meeting of the leadership team. Vega said the group has to define reality, what the community assets are, what the challenges are, among other things.

“This is going to be a long process. This is going to be a messy process,” Vega said. “We’re still in the beginning stages. We’re going to be meeting all year to figure this out.”

The Education Partnership was first announced at an ECISD teacher convocation about two years ago.

During that time, Perryman said members have attended conferences, conducted research, learned about collective impact, commissioned studies like Hurd’s and one of the ECISD curriculum and the Youth Truth Survey to find out what students thought of their school climate. The Education Foundation provided funding for the studies and the survey.

“Now that we have that research done, the research will continue. It’s not a one-time thing. We’ve agreed to do three years of Youth Truth. We will come back and look at the other data, as well, … but from that this group has the information upon which to base their decisions of what we need to activate in the community.” Perryman said.

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