Other Voices

Ways to fix dropout rates in FWISD

Dry erase boards were filled with Spanish like this one with classroom instructions during Spanish immersion classes at Burton Hill Elementary School Thursday morning June 18, 2015.
Dry erase boards were filled with Spanish like this one with classroom instructions during Spanish immersion classes at Burton Hill Elementary School Thursday morning June 18, 2015. Star-Telegram archives

Hispanics represent more than 50 percent of student enrollment across Texas public schools — and 63 percent of student enrollment within the Fort Worth ISD. It would be fair to say the success of Texas schools rises or falls with Hispanic students, many of whom are English language learners. Therefore, the progress of English learners should be a vital data point for school accountability systems across our state.

English language learners are one of the fastest-growing student groups in Texas, and sadly, these students are among the most likely to drop out of school. We are diligently working across the Fort Worth ISD to close an achievement gap of almost 20 percent in graduation rates for English learners.

It is time for the Texas Education Agency to hold all schools accountable for educating this vulnerable student group.

Texas submitted its education accountability plan to the U.S. Department of Education in late 2017, in compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This law, which passed with broad bipartisan support, requires states to submit customized plans explaining their vision, goals and specific plans for educational improvement.

States have flexibility to design their own accountability measurements, which is good. Texas has the opportunity to design accountability measurements that represent all student groups, including English learners.

Unfortunately, an independent peer review of state education accountability plans (published at Check State Plans) reveals that Texas’ plan is weak in holding schools accountable for the success of English learners. Additionally, the state’s grading system for schools doesn’t specify how the progress of English learners will factor into a school’s overall grade. Peer reviewers gave the Texas plan its lowest score — 1 out of 5 — in two categories: identifying low-performing schools and ensuring that all student subgroups, such as English learners, are receiving a high-quality education.

Without clear accountability for vulnerable student subgroups, our state runs the risk of masking low student performance. Consequently, if student performance isn’t adequately measured, then school performance measurements are equally inaccurate.

Earlier this year I commended the TEA for parent resources now being provided in both English and Spanish. I now write to encourage TEA to prioritize the progress of all students to include English learners within its accountability plan. High standards and goals are necessary. Yet without accountability measures across every student subgroup, we cannot claim to have reached those goals. Accounting for the progress of English language learners — and especially Spanish-speaking students who work hard to learn the English language alongside their other academic subjects — must factor in to a school’s success rating.

As executive director of Multilingual Programs for the Fort Worth ISD, I meet and hear from thousands of students and parents. Our teachers and administrators are eager to work with parents, including parents of English language learners, inviting them to become advocates for their child’s academic progress. These students deserve accountability systems that reflect the progress of all students, including those who are working to become fluent in English. Schools across the Lone Star State must be held accountable for ensuring all students, including English language learners, are prepared for success.

Elda M. Rojas is the Executive Director of Multilingual Programs at the Fort Worth Independent School District.