District’s writing plan under fire after drop in STAAR performance

Anxiety over lagging 2017 State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) scores was expressed by Hays CISD leaders after preliminary results for the district were released last month.

Joy Philpott, Hays CISD director of assessment and accountability, said the district’s writing scores for 2017 were down from last year. The trend was reversed from a year previous when the district’s writing scores improved significantly.

High school English I and II scores reflected the writing struggles seen across the district.

“We saw a dip in English I this year, while English II was stable,” Philpott said.

STAAR reading scores were also down slightly from 2016 in all grades except for third, which has “grown progressively.”

Philpott said the district’s “celebrations” include upticks in third-grade reading, and math scores for grades 3rd to 6th. Hays CISD also saw increases in 8th grade science and U.S. History.

But the primary area of concern was the dropping writing score in the district. Philpott said district staff would continue with data analysis and use it for Hays CISD’s campus needs assessment during its Campus Improvement Plan (CIP) workshop.

See the preliminary STAAR results here.

Merideth Keller, Hays CISD board president, voiced concerns about the effectiveness of Debbie Diller and Associates, a professional development service that works with teachers to provide balanced literacy for students. Hays CISD contracted Debbie Diller for the past three years with the assistance of a federal grant.

In 2016, board trustees approved a $220,000 services agreement with Diller amid controversy over the effectiveness of the service.

Keller was interested in understanding when Hays CISD was going to vote on service contracts, claiming campuses that used Debbie Diller may not have improved test scores.

However, Hays CISD officials did not disclose information on classes and campuses that used Debbie Diller and how they did on the STAAR.

Yarda Leflet, Hays CISD executive director of learning and teaching, said the district didn’t have to bring the information back as Hays CISD “didn’t exceed the original amount the contract was signed for.”

Leflet said reading levels at Tom Green and Camino Real in Grades 3 to 5 improved.

“If a campus did a lot of focus work on Debbie Diller in 2nd grade last year, we’d see an impact on 3rd grade performance,” Leflet said.

Leflet said Debbie Diller provides the best information available, but one issue could potentially be not getting enough commitment from teachers, which she said makes a difference.

She said you have to “be committed” and at some campuses, some people “were possibly more committed to the professional development than others.”

Keller said if there were any issues with fidelity, the focus would center on upper administration.

“Having any concern that its teachers not being committed to that, we have to eliminate that from our vocabulary,” Keller said. “Teachers don’t just do what they want to because they can.”

Keller advocated for obtaining score data prior to the district contracting services. However, she also felt the district didn’t have an adequate writing plan in place, and said that Diller is not a service used for writing.

“We have to do something more,” Keller said. “We can’t just say we didn’t see the train coming when we’re standing on the tracks and looking at the train.”

Trustee Esperanza Orosco said she’d lauded the data analysis prior to the CIP, but felt the district should release that information faster. She said the district rushed to enact its 2017 CIP last October and it didn’t cover “everything it needed to cover.”

Orosco said she asked district officials several months ago about the district’s writing plan, and received “hodge podge, cut and paste information” from when she was in the district.

She advocated for a concrete writing plan that goes beyond common benchmark tests. Orosco, who voted against the contract for Debbie Diller in 2016, asked why the district is using the service that has expertise in reading.

Leflet said the district has instructional coaches who have a strong literacy background and coordinators for English language arts in elementary and secondary schools.

She said campuses could also request support from those coordinators for professional development.

“We need to look at what we’re doing for writing and have a plan in place for our teachers and students,” Orosco said.

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