As I look over and over again at the data produced by Seguin ISD, it’s hard not to feel like the work before us is endless. As one community member said at a meeting last year, “it seems like every year there is a new plan to fix our schools. And every year the plan doesn’t work and then we get a new plan.” Truthfully, she was right. There is a trail of Campus Improvement Plans and District Improvement Plans that were ineffective in solving the very real, very difficult challenges of educating our young people. Observing the lack of progress can be demoralizing.
But then there is this:
Meet Weinert Elementary School. Weinert looks pretty much like every other elementary school in our district. Just bigger. It is the largest campus, with nearly 600 students. But it is about 66% Hispanic, 28% white, and about 63% of its students are of low socioeconomic status. This tracks fairly closely with the composition of the other elementaries in Seguin. (1) Its student performance tracks pretty closely with the rest of the district as well. Until this year. This year, something happened.
In 2014, for the first administration of the STAAR Reading Test to 5th grade students, just 67% achieved a passing score. What’s more, the “achievement gap” between white and Hispanic students stood at 22%. (1) This year, on the same test, the 5th graders passed at a rate of 88%, a 31% improvement. The white/Hispanic gap shrank to 17%. But it gets better! It wasn’t just the 5th graders. The 3rd graders and 4th graders saw similar improvements. In fact, the 4th graders saw their achievement gap shrink from 24 to 7 points! (2) It is true that scores can fluctuate from year-to-year, but this kind of consistent improvement in performance across grade levels suggests that something very real and very important happened this year at Weinert.
What happened? I have spoken with several people, both parents and administrators. The were several changes made but the overall emphasis was on quality instruction. Parents report that their children learned all day-from bell to bell. There was no homework aside from 20 minutes of reading. The behavior management also changed-there was more of an emphasis on short-term rewards with frequent positive reinforcement. Where did all these ideas come from? That’s next week’s column. I had an opportunity to sit down with Brandi Bell Wiatrek, Weinert’s principal. Next time I’ll share what she taught me about her successful approach.
Together we can do better.