Crowe: ECISD kids can performMultiple challenges to raising scores

Reviewing recent local standardized test results, Superintendent Tom Crowe said the lower-than-hoped-for scores may largely be due to a lack of confidence on the part of students, teachers and parents.
The data shows where the district is, how the students are performing, whether they are where they need to be and also are a predictor for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, scores to come.
In August 2016, 29 Ector County Independent School District campuses met standard under state accountability ratings and 12 were rated improvement required (IR) due to low STAAR scores.
Blackshear, Goliad and Pease elementary schools were rated improvement required for the second year. Odessa High School was rated improvement required for the third year in a row and four schools are rated IR for the fourth year in a row – Burleson, Noel and Zavala elementary schools and Ector Middle School.
The Texas Education Agency checks in regularly to see how campuses with turnaround plans are doing, Crowe said.
Overall, he added, ECISD is “doing OK.”
“I think we’re getting over the line. Certainly it’s not my ultimate goal. It’s a starting point to get everybody out of IR, but I think our kids can perform up here. They can do anything that anybody else can, but sometimes you’ve got to convince them,” Crowe said.
“The kids aren’t convinced they can do it and sometimes we have to convince ourselves. That to me is the biggest challenge … getting everybody on the same page in a belief system that our kids can perform and that includes parents, kids teachers, administrators – everybody,” he added.
Crowe said the local exams are like a checkpoint.
“It’s kind of like a midterm that doesn’t count, but it tells us are teachers keeping up with our scope and sequence? Are the kids learning what they need to? Are there areas we need to shore up? That’s really what all that test data was,” Crowe said.
Officials went over results of district-based assessments and standards-based assessments with the board. Crowe said the district based tests are meant to test whether students are keeping up with the district’s curriculum, or scope and sequence. The district-based test is locally generated, he said.
The standards-based assessment shows whether students are making the progress they need to. There will be questions on the test they won’t get right because they haven’t been covered yet. Crowe said is based on a set of standards and parameters set forth by the state.
Crowe said both are “very good predictors.”
“That helps our teachers go in and say, ‘Johnny has fallen behind in this concept. We’ve got to catch him up, or else the predictor says he’s not going to make it if we don’t help him shore up some of his deficiencies,’” Crowe said.
Results showed that 64 percent of the elementary schools were either above or within 10 points of the standard. Those elementary schools are: Reagan, Hays, Alamo, Austin, Cameron, Buice, Dowling, Jordan, Milam, Travis, LBJ, Ireland, Gonzales, Blanton, San Jacinto, Sam Houston, Fly and Ross.
“At 10 points, we feel really good that we’re going to get them there,” Crowe said. “Our history has shown if at this point they’re within 10 points, we do a pretty good job of getting them over the hump.”
Thirty-three percent of middle schools are above or within 10 points of the index score. Those middle schools are Bowie and Nimitz. But 60 percent of ECISD high schools are above the targeted percentage margin.
Crowe said there are many measures that can be taken with students to help them improve, but every youngster is different.
“The teachers look at that data and they know their kids and they work with their individual kids on getting them over the minimum standard. It can be tutoring. It can be putting them on a computer to catch up. One thing that we’ve realized is if a child is struggling with math the answer is not giving more math homework because he will just keep making the same mistake,” Crowe said. “So it’s a lot of monitoring of where they are and if you know where the weakness is then you can address it. If you’re just guessing, you’re just shot-gunning and seeing if something sticks.”
Most of the campuses have developed rubrics, or scoring guides, for different students. Where a student is determines what intervention is used, Crowe said.
Roxanna Mitchell, a volunteer at OCTECHS who has a 10th-grader attending the school, said in an email that the instructors at the early college high school have full confidence that the students are “quite able to pass” the tests.
“They are working very diligently to prepare the students,” Mitchell said. She added that sending her student to OCTECHS is the best decision “that we have made as a family.”
Asked whether she thinks there are too many tests, Mitchell said, “I have a problem when teachers are held accountable for the students who do not take testing seriously.”
Mitchell said the tests don’t cause anxiety for her student or herself.
Although it may be a naïve belief, UTPB art professor Chris Stanley, who has a daughter at Odessa High School, said Odessa has an “incredible” school district, but what is lacking is “incredible parental involvement.”
“I think that is what holds us back. We need a district where the parents are as passionate about the education of their children as the teachers who have been given the privilege to be teaching them,” Stanley said. “Every parent has a gift that they can give and it might just be being present at a PTA meeting. It’s that simple. It isn’t complex.”
Stanley added that a lot has changed since he was in high school and the district now has to prepare students for the 21st century. “If we’re not apprised of the situation, we’re not helping our children out,” he said. “I think I have had an incredible experience with the teachers and the school district and I don’t think that’s a rarity. I just don’t think our school district has enough academic cheerleaders.”
Stanley said it’s the job of every parent to educate themselves, along with their children. If parents don’t understand something, the district has a responsibility to educate them, too. He added that parents need to take academic risks.
“It’s a whole different educational world, but I think we need to convince the parents that they can participate in that, too. I think that starts at the elementary,” Stanley added.
He said there needs to be more talking to more stakeholders and the children to find out what issues they have.
We’re not doing a lot of stakeholder talking we need to talk to the children find out what issues see if they’re stalled. Stanley added that it has to be a two-way street between the district and the community.
“It’s students; it’s parents; it’s community service work. I think Crowe’s got his hands full. It’s a hard nut to crack,” Stanley said.
Tutoring is offered before and after school and based on individual needs. Crowe said he couldn’t give a number, but there are “quite a few” that take advantage of it.
“If the whole class messes up, to me that means I didn’t teach it very good, so I’ve got to go back and redo it. I’ve had that before as a teacher,” Crowe said.
The main subject ECISD has to tackle is reading because “reading affects everything,” Crowe said.
Before STAAR, Crowe said if there was a math problem, a student didn’t need to read things like math problems. They just needed to know what 7 plus 2 was or 9 times 7.
“Now they’re reasoning and they embed the question within the paragraph and they’ve got to figure it out,” Crowe said.
He added that’s where a lot of districts, including ECISD, have struggled. Students still have to know their multiplication, addition, subtraction and division, but that isn’t what STAAR measures.
“When they switched over to STAAR, which was not rote memorization, it was learning and learning to apply. Too many people still wanted to do handouts with 7 plus 2 equals 9; 11 minus 1 equals 10 – in other words memorization. When they got the first STAAR results, they went, ‘Holy cow.’ It’s because it isn’t just memorization anymore. It is reasoning and interpreting; interpreting data,” Crowe said.
“The test is on your ability to read and understand what they’re asking,” Crowe said.
Crowe added that you can’t beat the STAAR and he has been through all the different state testing incarnations – TEAMS, TABS, TAAS and TAKS.
“It’s really the best check, the most comprehensive since I’ve been in education,” he said.
Efforts to bring together colleges, universities, teachers and community members to help improve the district’s performance are ongoing. Education Partners, announced in fall 2016, is such an effort. It’s similar to Educate Texas, which just finished working with Midland ISD.
Chris Coxon, managing director for Educate Texas, the organization doesn’t have enough staff to take on Odessa at this point. Educate Texas is a public-private partnership focused on improving the public education system so every Texas student is prepared for “success in school, in the workforce and in life,” its website said.
The organization’s efforts in the Rio Grande Valley, which is demographically similar to the Permian Basin, have been successful. Coxon said superintendents in the Valley understood that if they were “going to push the envelope,” they needed to go for college and career readiness. They agreed to implement some early college high schools and STEM academies and use those as a foundation to push the whole area.
Schools in the Valley partnered with community colleges, a state technical college and universities so everyone would be pulling in the same direction.
Too often, Coxon said communities ask what works in the Valley or Dallas, but what is successful there may not work in their district.
“We want to build off strengths, not weaknesses,” Coxon said. “That’s why collective impact works. There are teachers in Odessa that are making a difference, that are getting good scores with difficult to teach kids. Once you find them … (you) have to find out what are they doing differently than everybody else.
“Once figure that out, you can start spreading those practices across the community. People want to buy their way to improvement instead of figuring out what we’re doing well and replicating it,” Coxon said.
The big thing, though, is a school district sitting down with its partners going over data to see what grades teachers are needed in over time. There has to be a specific level of partnership and commitment between districts, colleges and universities, he said.
Those partners have to look at data and do something different. If they don’t, it’s no good, Coxon said.
ECISD has two early college high schools in place on the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and Odessa College campuses. Plans are to add science, technology, engineering, art and math to two of its magnet schools, Hays Magnet Academy and Gale Pond Alamo Elementary.
Coxon said he brought a team to Ector County several years ago specifically to look at George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa, because it was doing some strong work. But the district’s top leadership and changes to the board of trustees, which he said he thinks led to where the district is now.
Coxon said he met with Crowe, UTPB President David Watts and OC President Gregory Williams. “You’ve got some really good, strong leaders who are doing different individual things. … But again, individual organizations doing phenomenal work does not raise a whole system. Unfortunately, that is the way we’ve treated things in the past,” Coxon said.
The whole community has to come together and talk about how to improve student performance without getting into turf wars, he said.
“More often than not, it’s a broader definition of stakeholders than what school districts think,” Coxon said. “It’s not just about can you draw a straight line from kindergarten to high school, high school to community college, etc., but do people talk to each other? In communities all over there (is) angst about previous times we said we were going to work together and didn’t. There are hurt feelings and lack of trust about how they’re going to work together. You can get everybody together, but can they work together?
Coxon said out of the state’s largest 200 school districts, Midland is ranked 199 and Odessa, 200.
He noted that the districts struggle with similar issues and could benefit from working together, such as attracting quality teachers.
“And yet there are not sufficient strategies in place for growing your own teachers for both communities and ensuring those teachers who are coming out the region service center or UTPB or Tech that they are sufficient in number and sufficient quality,” Coxon said.
ECISD has started more teacher training programs in the past couple of years. A lab school is planned for San Jacinto Elementary School aimed at helping new teachers stay in the profession.
The district also recently started the education preparation program Tech Teach Across Texas 2+1 Fast-track, a partnership with Texas Tech University and Odessa College, aimed at giving student teachers the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the classroom.