VISD high school improvement plans created for low-performing students

Oct. 20, 2011 at 5:20 a.m.

The Victoria school board approved at its regular board meeting Thursday school improvement plans for Victoria East and West high schools after the Texas Education Agency rated the campuses academically unacceptable for the past school year.

Each campus identified students in population groups that did not meet state standards on their Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exams and created strategies to help those students succeed.

As required by TEA, educators at both high schools compiled extensive data about individual students that included things like the number of days they were absent, the number of credits they've received, the amount of days they were removed for disciplinary reasons and an exhaustive breakdown of what items each student missed on the TAKS exam.

"What we're talking about tonight is a few outliers out of 14,400 kids," said Superintendent Bob Moore.

At East High school, 339 students were identified as not meeting math standards on TAKS. Those students were from African-American, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged groups.

At West High School, 324 students were identified as not meeting social studies, math and science standards. In mathematics, those students were from the same populations as East High School, while African-Americans were found to have not met state expectations in social studies and science.

Perhaps the most prominent factor most of these students had in common was the number of days they were absent from class.

"We saw the same thing you saw in the data. We have a community issue about kids not coming to school," West Principal Debbie Crick said.

Almost daily, Crick said, law enforcement brings a student to school because a store owner, for example, called to report truancy. Part of the school improvement plan includes getting the community on board with ensuring kids are in school.

"If our attendance rate was 98 percent, we would never be close to (academically unacceptable) because we have smart students," East Principal Greg Crockett said. "We're up to 91 percent (attendance) this year, but that's still far away from where we need to be."

Superintendent Bob Moore said a better indicator of how VISD is improving can be seen by the completion rate, which has increased from the 60 and 70 percent range in 2006 to more than 80 percent of all student groups completing high school last year.

In the first year of Victoria East and West high schools opening, the TEA also changed its accountability system to not account for district growth when assigning ratings.

"We'd be recognized," Moore said. "We didn't get credit for growth, but that's a political thing."

Susanne Carroll, VISD's executive director of curriculum, instruction and accountability, eased board member concerns that, with all of the work that went into developing improvement plans for the district's lower-performing students, the high-performing students are not being ignored.

The plans presented Thursday to the board are in addition to overall campus improvement plans all schools are implementing.

Carroll also assured board members that, while the plans under discussion only address high schoolers, the district is working on strengthening students before they enter high school.

A TEA specialist that looked over VISD's data advised the district look at declining scores in middle school and align its curriculum to prepare students for advancing grades, according to Joan Edmonds. Edmonds is a TEA-approved educator outside of the district who's on the schools' campus improvement teams.

The district's CSCOPE curriculum was implemented last year with the intention of doing just what the specialist ordered.

"We are ahead of the game. We did see the need, and we implemented a very rigorous curriculum last school year," Carroll said.

While visiting several classrooms, Edmonds said she noticed some teachers are not fully on board with the new curriculum framework, though.

The improvement plans address that issue, too.

Board members were hardly discouraged after a long night of reviewing data and discussing the state of Victoria's new high schools. Rather, they acknowledged last year's transition to new schools and a new curriculum, and praised the work of VISD students.

"I don't really feel like these are unacceptable schools," Keeling said. "I think we're going to get there, and we'll get it done."



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