The Scores are Up! Well, Sort of. Some of Them Anyway.

There has been a lot of talk about test scores coming out of Seguin ISD for the last couple of months, accompanied by a lot of congratulations. I generally wait until I can see the data for myself from the TEA before commenting.  What does that data show?

One of the central points the district has made is that our students made large gains made on 5th and 8th grade STAAR tests compared to last year. Let’s take a look at those numbers. This first table shows the pass rates achieved by SISD students on the FIRST administration of the STAAR last spring compared to the first administration in 2015. It does NOT include retest data.

Spring STAAR Testing-Round 1

Test

2015 State

2015 Seguin

Spread

2016 State

2016 Seguin

Spread

Spread Diff.

Reading 5

78

74

-4

75

72

-3

1

Reading 8

78

66

-12

82

72

-10

2

Math 5

79

66

-13

79

69

-10

3

Math 8

75

62

-13

73

59

-14

-1

As you can see, the pass rates for Seguin for 2016 are not very different from 2015. Now, the passing standard was raised by the state, meaning that, in general, students had to answer 1-2 more questions correctly to pass this year. However, with the exception of 8th grade reading, there was not a huge increase in pass rates. Another thing to consider is how we compare to the state average. Historically, we have lagged FAR below state averages in student performance. Here, it’s easier to see that our students did make up some ground compared to the state. However, we are still far behind in most categories.

Another claim the district made is that student performance on the STAAR retest was strong and that boosted the overall pass rates. Let’s take a look at the retest data:

Spring STAAR Retest Results

Test

2016 State

2016 Seguin

Spread

Reading 5

30

27

-3

Math 5

42

52

10

Reading 8

36

34

-2

Math 8

43

28

-15

Here, you can see that we didn’t really outperform the state overall. Some pass rates were higher, some lower, but overall, it’s pretty close.

One area in which Seguin ISD has really struggled historically is with what is called the “achievement gap”. That is the difference in performance between minority groups and everyone else. Did we close that gap over the last year? Let’s look. Again, this is from the initial round of testing.

Spring STAAR Testing-Round 1

Test

2015 Seguin All

2015 Seguin (H)

Spread

2016 Seguin All

2016 Seguin (H)

Spread

Spread

Diff.

Reading 5

74

72

-2

72

66

-6

-4

Reading 8

66

60

-6

72

67

-5

1

Math 5

66

62

-4

69

63

-6

-2

Math 8

62

59

-3

59

56

-3

0

As you can see, the gap persists for Hispanic students, who make up about two-thirds of our student population. If anything, it is perhaps worse this year than it was in 2015.

Finally (tired of numbers yet?), we have heard nothing from the district about the performance of our high school students. That testing data has been absent from any of their discussions and press releases. How did our high school students do? Let’s look at the first-round testing numbers for the End-of-Course exams required for graduation.

Spring End-of-Course Testing 2016

Test

2015

2016

Spread

English I

50

47

-3

English II

53

54

1

Algebra I

67

61

-6

Biology

89

77

-12

U.S. History

89

92

3

You can see from this data why there has been no mention of the scores. Student performance dropped significantly in several areas. Fewer than half of our students passed the English I exam. And the Algebra I pass rate is now below two-thirds. This could indicate that we have some serious instructional issues at the secondary level. Alternatively this could be due to math foundation issues carried over from the lower grade levels.

What’s the take home? There were definitely some improvements at the elementary level. Scores at McQueeney, Jefferson, and Vogel improved. Weinert earned four distinctions, which is excellent. However, Patlan scores decreased. The other campuses were fairly stable. Overall, the gains appear modest and the achievement gaps persist. In addition, the high school data suggest some serious issues that need to be addressed.

My point is this: it’s important to talk about the improvements. There were some. But to completely ignore the areas where we didn’t improve or, worse, where we seriously under-performed, does a disservice to the community and the district because it prevents us from having a serious discussion about the way forward. We have problems that one or two people cannot fix. It’s going to take a broad, sustained effort and that is going to require honest, full discussions about where we are and where we want to go.

Together, we can do better.

Bob Stephens

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Putting Kids First Means Putting Teachers First Too

The Seguin ISD has placed on the ballot on September 10th a Tax Ratification Election (TRE) asking voters to increase the tax rate by two cents per $100 of property valuation. They state that this additional money is needed in order to fund raises for the district’s teachers and other employees.

There are many concerns present in our community as to the Board of Trustees’ financial management. These concerns make advocating for the TRE difficult at best. We want to make absolutely clear, however, that we stand as one with the employees of Seguin ISD. The mission of the Seguin ISD is to educate our young people. In order to do that effectively, we need to honor, value, and respect our educators. The Seguin ISD Board of Trustees should be making teacher compensation a top priority. Only after that is funded should they concern themselves with other things.

Most people live by a very simple rule: we pay for what we need first. Then we pay for what we want.

Educate Seguin reached out to the district and asked the district’s financial officer to answer some of our questions concerning the budget and the proposed TRE. He has refused a request to meet with us and refused to answer our questions via telephone. This leaves us with the limited facts we can gather from public documents and board meetings:

  • The district’s budget for “Instruction” was over budget by $1.8 million last year. Since teacher pay and staffing levels were set in advance, teacher pay is not the cause. We observe that there are many large payments to “consultants” listed in the district’s check register over the last year. We suspect this is the reason for the deficit in this budget category.
  • The Board of Trustees approved funds to pay for a variety of “supplemental” expenses last year such as:
    • $21,000 for golf carts
    • $15,000 for holiday parties
    • $40,000 for additional payments to district attorneys
    • $500 hotel rooms for board members and administrators
  • The Board of Trustees also approved funds this year to pay up to $1.5 million for a new scoreboard at Matador Stadium. The teacher pay raises would cost $1.4 million this fiscal year.

Teachers should be a top priority, and their raises should be implemented immediately. The district and the voters can then have a conversation prior to the TRE vote on September 10 about how best to meet the district’s needs in the future. Approving the pay raises now demonstrates to district staff and the voters that the Board of Trustees is serious about educating our students and respecting our teachers and other personnel.

The narrative from the district is “if you support teachers, you should support the tax increase.” The community fully supports teachers, and we are certain it will do what is necessary. However, there are many questions about the district’s budget and the need for a TRE that they are refusing to answer. We will continue to ask those questions and we call on the district to answer them. We have a responsibility, as Educate Seguin, to educate the community on this issue. That’s our mission.

In closing, we will simply emphasize that our teachers should be a top priority. We have heard trustees say this themselves. Now they need to act on their words. We understand that there are many challenges in funding and that money for teacher pay needs to be available not just this year but into the future. However, we also know that the district has the funds available, right now, to give our teachers and staff the raises they need and deserve. There is no excuse for leaving them and their families to twist in the wind, waiting on the results of the TRE. We call on the district to align its budget with its stated priorities. Give our teachers and district staff what they deserve. Today. Do What’s Right.

Together, we can do better.

Bob Stephens

Secondary Class Size Limits

As parents, students, teachers, and concerned citizens we have witnessed the adoption of any number of teaching initiatives in Seguin schools, initiatives which recognize  everything from the presence of different learning styles to the integration of technology. Seguin ISD teachers report that their responsibilities have become ever more extensive, complicated and regulated. Like a priest with a small and vocal congregation, they must be everything to everyone. We support real class size limits at the secondary level for all core classes as a goal to be realized in the near future. These classes in English, Social Studies, Math and Science are necessary for graduation so all students, regardless of background and ability, must take and pass them. Furthermore, these are the subjects covered by high-stakes standardized tests, tests which generate a school’s academic rating. Because of this emphasis, we believe that no tested core class should have more that 25 students. We realize that this will involve increasing staffing. We believe that there is no more effective teaching initiative than the direct, personal attention of a professional educator. Smaller class sizes will make this possible. We recognize the uniquely beautiful and essentially democratic desire to educate all children that is the goal of a public high school. We also recognize the presence of economic, social and cultural factors that complicate this desire. We believe that smaller class sizes and more teachers is a simple and elegant way to address these multiple challenges.

Expanded Mental Health Services for Students

By Kim Stephens

Seguin ISD’s mission is to provide every child an excellent education in a supportive environment so they achieve their highest potential and become leaders and contributors in the global community through rigorous and relevant learning in partnership with committed staff, parents, and community. In order to make this mission achievable, it is imperative that Seguin ISD include mental health professionals in that supportive environment to all students and their families on all campuses.

Addressing mental health needs in school is critically important because 1 in 5 children and youth have a diagnosable emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder and 1 in 10 young people have a mental health challenge that is severe enough to impair how they function at home, school or in the community.1

Many estimates show that even though mental illness affects so many of our kids aged 6-17, at least one-half and by some estimates as many as 80% of them do not receive the mental health care they need.2

Being able to recognize and support kids mental health in schools matters because:

  • Mental health problems are common and often develop during childhood and adolescence
  • Mental health problems are treatable.
  • Early detection and intervention strategies work. They can help improve resilience and the ability to succeed in school & life.

In addition, youth with emotional and behavioral disorders have the worst graduation rate of all students with disabilities. Nationally, only 40 percent of students with emotional, behavioral and mental health disorders graduate from high school, compared to the national average of 76 percentand, over 50% of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities ages 14 and older drop out of high school. This is the highest dropout rate of any disability group 4

Schools provide a unique opportunity to identify and treat mental health conditions by serving students where they already are. School personnel play an important role in identifying the early warning signs of an emerging mental health condition and in linking students with effective services and supports. To this end, Educate Seguin believes that Seguin ISD needs to make available professional mental health services on all campuses by the 2017-2018 academic year. These professionals need to have the capacity to identify students with, or at risk for, mental health problems, to refer them for assessment and interventions appropriate to their needs, and to monitor and manage their behavioral, mental health, and emotional needs at school. This will enable us to live up to our promise to help all children in Seguin ISD reach their highest potential.

Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., et al. (2005). Life-time prevalence and age-of-onset distribution of DSM-IV disorders in the national co-morbidity survey replication. Archives of General Psychiatry 62, 593-602.

2Kataoka, S.; Zhang, L.; & Wells, K. (2002). Unmet need for mental health care among U.S. children: Variation by ethnicity and insurance status. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159(9), pp. 1548-1555.

3U.S. Department of Education, Twenty-third annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Washington, D.C., 2001.

4Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health. (2005/2006). National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs. Portland, OR: The Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative (CAHMI). childhealthdata.org/browse/survey/results?q=1099&r=1

Student Discipline

By Marty Keil

The Code of Conduct for Seguin ISD is comprehensive, detailed and covers many aspects of what is needed to maintain a positive learning environment. Educate Seguin strongly suggests a review of this Code to determine what is most necessary for behavior expectations. A positive learning environment is a productive learning environment

While rules are absolutely necessary to provide a safe and orderly place for learning to occur, the enforcement of those rules must be equitable and fair to all students. If not, many unintended consequences can also occur. Teachers and students alike want to feel safe, cared for, and respected. The safety features recently added to the elementary campuses are helpful in this regard.

In this blog, I’d like to discuss those parts of the Code that most directly impact learning.

First, school uniforms could eliminate much disrespect between students and teachers. This would help eliminate dress code violations where many inequitable punishments are handed out. Relationships between students and teachers would improve, promoting better camaraderie for all.

A later start time for high school may help with tardiness as well as help students be more attentive in class. The later start time to begin this fall for high school students is a great move.

Speaking as an experienced first grade teacher of 29 years, all in Seguin ISD, I can tell you that children of all ages respond to order, organization and clear parameters. From the youngest in pre-K to the graduating senior, students learn responsibility by observing the consequences for both good and bad behavior.

While some things change over time, the attributes for a quality place of learning are still the same. As I said above, students must feel safe, respected and truly cared about.

Our teachers work hard to create this environment on a daily basis.

As written in a previous blog, waivers granted by TEA on the maximum number of students per classroom also directly impact classroom discipline. Overcrowded classrooms hamper a teacher’s ability to keep the optimum learning space where an individual student’s needs can be met. Every year class sizes grow, even as objectives for each grade level increase, and become more challenging.

While the State sets the suggested classroom size, the local school district has the flexibility to set classroom sizes based on information at hand for its particular student population. Our school district should acknowledge this, and form smaller, more manageable class sizes.

Academics are not the only challenge in an overcrowded classroom. Students often compete for the teacher’s attention by acting out with unacceptable behavior, even though the reward may be negative. The physiological and emotional needs of the child must be met before any academic success can happen. Fewer children in K-3 classrooms allow the teacher to set the foundation for that child to have the necessary skills in place for the rest of their school career.

Finally, it comes down to giving teachers an opportunity to grow in experience at a particular grade level to become that highly “effective” teacher. Moving a teacher around every two years to various grade levels to see where they are most effective is a mistake and waste of energy. Effective, inspiring teachers are usually those with experience, knowledge and dedication that has been honed and refined through years of teaching at their preferred grade level.

Seguin ISD Needs Universal Pre-K by 2020

By Darren Dunn

If you want to build something that lasts – something that will stand the test of time, you need to start with a solid foundation. This axiom is also true when it comes to providing a quality education for our children. That educational foundation should begin with a quality pre-kindergarten program. It doesn’t matter whether your kids get it at a private school or through a state run program, the benefits of pre-K will last a lifetime.

More and more policy-makers in Texas are recognizing the need to provide quality pre-K instruction to every four-year old in the state. Governor Greg Abbott made improving the state’s pre-K programs his top priority during the last legislative session. The new law doesn’t provide universal Pre-K, but it does set aside millions of dollars to enhance existing pre-K programs in the state.

Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, before leaving for the Obama administration, engineered an innovative Pre-K 4 SA program that takes the best teachers and pairs them up with students who apply to participate in the program. It’s not universal pre-K, but it’s a clear example of how important an issue this has become. This is traditionally not the role of the cities in Texas, but stakeholders in San Antonio recognized that a greater investment needed to be made in its children.

Universal pre-K would go a long way in making sure that every child in Seguin had the right foundation, and the right start to their formal education. Those opposed to universal pre-K often say the benefits are gone by the time the student reaches the third grade. That’s based on some old research that has largely been disproven by groups, like the National Institute for Early Education Research. Through its research, NIEER has demonstrated time and time again the lasting benefits of pre-K instruction. We know it matters. We know it’s needed. So now it’s just a matter of making it accessible to all children.

There are too many Seguin ISD students showing up the first day of kindergarten, and they simply are not prepared for the classroom, or for the huge amount of academic growth that is expected of those students during that first year of elementary school. There’s hardly any retention of these students in the Seguin ISD, so that means many of them are passed on to the next grade, without having mastered kindergarten skills, and certainly not ready for anything that the first grade is ready to offer. Thus begins the cycle of trying to play catch up.

Universal pre-k need not be a threat to private or church sponsored day care centers. I think the pool of parents that would opt for those services would remain largely unchanged. However, a universal pre-k program run by the Seguin ISD would provide access for all of the other parents who don’t have the means to afford quality pre-K services, or who don’t qualify for the district’s existing program.

Investing more resources in its youngest students seems to be the right place for the Seguin ISD to start if it wants to truly provide an “education…as good as gold.”

Why Open Meetings are Important

By Steve Anderson

One of the fundamental principles of a representative democracy is transparency. In order for citizens to be fully informed about the issues affecting their lives and the elected officials who are making decisions on their behalf, it is important that governmental entities conduct their business as openly and transparently as possible. Doing otherwise denies citizens their right to public information and invites questions and, worse, suspicions about the actions and motives of officeholders.

In an effort to ensure that governmental bodies perform their work in the public eye, every state in the country – including Texas – has adopted “Open Meeting” laws that require school boards, city councils, state legislatures and other public entities to hold their deliberations in an “open” manner that is readily accessible to and by the public. Most, if not all, of these Open Meeting laws do allow limited and reasonable exceptions to public deliberation for highly sensitive and confidential matters. In Texas, those exceptions generally fall into the categories of personnel matters, real estate transactions, and pending or contemplated litigation.

At times the Seguin ISD Board of Trustees appears to interpret these Texas Open Meeting Law exemptions very broadly. They often have been quick to go into executive session with their attorney when it has not always been clear from the posted agenda item that such action is warranted or allowable under the law. These occasions have contributed to public mistrust of the Trustees and compromised their ability to work constructively with the community on the many critical matters that are facing our district and children.

In our 2016 platform, Educate Seguin calls for the Seguin ISD Board of Trustees to limit its use of closed, executive sessions to those subjects specifically outlined in the Texas Open Meetings Law. A narrow, conservative interpretation of the law’s exemptions to open deliberation is in the best interest of both the Board and the community, and will go far in restoring public trust in our Seguin ISD Trustees.

Eliminating Class-Size Waivers

By Lisa Burns

This is the next article in a series of articles about the 11 planks in the Educate Seguin Platform for 2016. The Education Seguin platform was designed by a group of parents, educators, professionals, and community members united together to improve the quality of education of the children of Seguin.

TEA (Texas Education Agency, the state organization responsible for governance of schools) policy limits the number of students enrolled in a kindergarten through fourth grade classroom to no more than 22. If a classroom’s enrollment exceeds this number, a waiver must be applied for according to TEC §25.112. Also, a school district that repeatedly fails to comply with class size requirements may be subject to actions under TEC §39.102.

For the 2015-16 school year, Seguin ISD applied for 12 classroom waivers. 12 of our local elementary classrooms were projected to have more students than the TEA allowable number.

Class size limits were put into place to boost student achievement. The Center for Public Education (an initiative of the National School Boards Association), compiled results from several different researchers and published these conclusions:

* Smaller classes in the early grades (K-3) can boost student academic achievement;

* A class size of no more than 18 students per teacher is required to produce the greatest benefits;

* A program spanning grades K-3 will produce more benefits than a program that reaches students in only one or two of the primary grades;

* Minority and low-income students show even greater gains when placed in small classes in the primary grades;

* The experience and preparation of teachers is a critical factor in the success or failure of class size reduction programs;

* Reducing class size will have little effect without enough classrooms and well-qualified teachers; and

* Supports, such as professional development for teachers and a rigorous curriculum, enhance the effect of reduced class size on academic achievement.

Much has already been written about the need for overall academic improvement in Seguin ISD. We need to give our teachers the best environment possible so that they can achieve the results that this community so desperately needs. Reduced class sizes allow teachers to connect more with each student as well as provide more individual help when necessary.

Class sizes cannot be reduced overnight. It takes substantial planning in both financial and physical resources. We urge Seguin ISD to plan to eliminate class size waivers for the 2017-18 school year as well as create a long-range for continually reduction of classroom sizes in order to give our students the education that they deserve.

The STAAR Tests

Educate Seguin has two “planks”: in its 2016 platform that address Seguin ISD performance on state standardized tests, specifically, the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Those planks are:

      • By 2020, achieve a district-wide passing rate of 90% on 5th and 8th grade STAAR Tests
      • By 2020, reduce the achievement gap to 5% for Hispanic, African-American, and economically disadvantaged students

Why are these important? There is a great deal of anger and criticism from students, parents, teachers, and administrators about the use of standardized tests. Much of that anger and criticism is justified. It can be very easily argued that teaching has become automated and geared solely towards helping students pass these tests. The fact that this is an unintended consequence does not really address the problem. On the other hand, it is important that there be some way of objectively measuring what students are learning. We have seen that there can be great disparities in what a passing grade means in one school versus another. The argument for STAAR is that it increases accountability and ensures students are being effectively taught. Previous Educate Seguin blogs have addressed the poor performance of our district on the STAAR tests and the impact that has on our young people and our community. It is imperative that we turn this around. And we must not only improve our overall performance but also the performance of our most at-risk populations. That is the goal of this part of the platform

What will it take? Ironically, we believe it will require the district to pay LESS attention to the test. Effective teaching is critical. We must make sure all of our teachers have the tools, training, and skills to teach every student in their classrooms. We will never achieve the goals we strive for by “teaching to the test” or by teaching “test-taking” skills or by curtailing instruction in non-test subjects or by having student repeatedly take practice test all year long. Every single student in every single classroom must have an effective teacher with the resources required to teach. If we commit to doing that, the test results will, we believe, take care of themselve and the STAAR will resume its intended place-as an indicator of effectiveness rather than a goal in itself.

Strategic Planning

This is the first of a series of articles on the Educate Seguin Platform for 2016.  There are eleven important “planks” in the Platform, the first of which is the development of a STRATEGIC PLAN for the district. The School Board should commit to working with the administration, faculty, staff and a “Blue Ribbon” Citizens Advisory Committee to develop a detailed long range plan by the end of the 2016-17 school year.  This new plan should have as its basis the 2012 vision Plan.

The Strategic Plan should list all the improvements that are necessary for Seguin I.S.D.to have a model educational program meeting and exceeding  all State Standards.   An estimate of the cost of each improvement should be included.  Priorities should be set considering what each improvement is going to accomplish to improve education in the District.  The Plan should also estimate income by year from all sources.  This should include an estimate, by year, of how much new income will come from increase in property values.  Current expenditures should be studied to determine where savings can be made to help finance the implementation  of the Plan.  Information should be included on how much a one cent tax increase would generate to help determine when and how much the tax rate may need to be increased.  Improvements should be included in all  areas of the District – educational program, physical facilities, teaching staff, administrative staff, support staff  to give  only a few examples.  The plans should be clear and in great detail.

There are some improvements that will be very expensive, such as pre-kindergarten, class-size reductions, and new programs.  These will require the type of detailed financing plan that is being recommended in the Platform.  The Plan will need to include plans and timing of Bond Elections and what improvements will be included in bond proposals..

This is the type of long  term strategic planning that is necessary to generate public support  and for Seguin I.S.D.  to become a first rate school district.  The School  Board should be committed to make this happen.

Harold Bogisch