Students aren’t the only ones who receive report cards. Districts are measured through state accountability testing, and this is the time of year we start to learn from the Texas Education Agency how we did.
The 2017-18 school year began with grave concerns for John T. White and Maude Logan elementary schools, which had been rated “Improvement Required” for five and six years, respectively. Just one more year of failure for either school could have triggered a state takeover of the Fort Worth ISD.
Additionally, Como, Mitchell Boulevard, West Handley and Walton elementary schools had received IR status for three years. Another unsuccessful academic year would have marked those campuses for closure in 2019-20.
The 2018 data are preliminary, but it appears all but one of these schools are no longer on the Improvement Required list. Most of these campuses that were labeled low performing are now meeting standard, including White and Logan elementaries, where the results are nothing short of amazing.
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How did two schools that brought our district to the brink of state control experience such a dramatic turnaround?
A year ago, we reconstituted White, Logan, Como, Mitchell Boulevard, and Forest Oak Middle School as FWISD Leadership Academies.
We invested time, money, other resources, and — most importantly — top talent at these five campuses.
We invited the most effective teachers in the district to teach at the Leadership Academies, rewarding them with a stipend for their commitment. We placed top principals there, along with every resource for success. A $1 million gift from the Rainwater Charitable Trust allowed us to extend the school day to include before and after-school tutoring and other support proven to help children who are “coming from behind.”
The early reports from the TEA in Austin indicate double-digit improvements for all five campuses, with the greatest gains at the Leadership Academy at Maude Logan and the Leadership Academy at John T. White, formerly our two most challenging campuses.
Overall, the Leadership Academies showed significant increases in the percentage of students passing STAAR from 2017 to 2018 in over 80 percent (17 of the 21) of the subjects tested.
At Maude Logan, there was a 10 percent point increase in students passing math (54-64 percent), a 16 percent point increase in students passing reading (40-56 percent), and a 14 percent point increase in students passing science (55-69 percent).
And, at John T. White, the data show a 24 percent point increase in students passing math (42-66 percent), a 10 percent point increase in students passing reading (51-61 percent), and a 35 percent point increase in students passing science (36-71 percent).
These early results validate three core beliefs.
Our strategy is working. We are focusing on fewer things – and doing them better. Every organization has a finite amount of resources. In the last year, the Fort Worth ISD has chosen to make elementary literacy, middle years’ math, and college and career readiness the top priorities.
Our commitment is worthy. From the launch of our 100X25FWTX district goal and a robust partnership with Read Fort Worth (led by Mayor Betsy Price and BNSF Chairman Matt Rose) we engaged the community in understanding that elementary literacy is the key. Until third grade, students are learning to read. After that, they are reading to learn.
Preliminary results show our greatest district increase was in third-grade reading, with an 8-point gain in students who passed the STAAR test. That also shrinks the gap between Fort Worth ISD and the state average from 11 percent in 2017 to 7 percent.
Our students can succeed. With the right resources, all – ALL – Fort Worth ISD students can look to a bright academic future. Ultimately, this is about the future of Fort Worth. This is about educating and developing a workforce prepared for the challenges of a global economy and ever-evolving technology so that our community does not fall behind.
Yes, our trajectory is on the ascent. At the same time, we have more work to do. While the multiple-year IR schools dropped from seven to one, several other campuses — mostly middle schools — slipped onto the list for their first year.
But, we have a strategy producing results, and we have momentum. We must continue the work. You’ve heard me say it: Our children are not problems to be solved, they are assets to be invested in.
Kent P. Scribner, Ph. D., is superintendent of the Fort Worth Independent School District