Concerns rise over writing scores in Hays CISD report card

While Hays CISD achieved a “met standard” rating on the Texas Education Agency’s 2017 Texas Academic Performance Report (TAPR), school board trustees remained concerned about the trajectory of the district and its students.

Hays CISD Acting Chief Academic Officer Yarda Leflet gave a presentation to school board members on Jan. 22, which was followed by a public hearing regarding the TAPR results.

Leflet said out of the current 23 campuses, only two of them, Hemphill and Camino Real Elementary, fell below standard in 2017.

Leflet said Hays CISD fell seven points in the percentage of students passing writing assessments in the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) from 2016 to 2017.

“Writing is our main area where we declined as a system from 2016-2017,” Leflet said.

She cited a change in the writing assessment as a reason for a decline in scores, which was a trend across the state.

Another area of concern for trustees was the percentage of English Language Learners (ELL) passing the STAAR. 

According to the TAPR, Hays CISD experienced an increase in ELL’s passing the math portion of the STAAR, but a decrease in students passing in writing, science and social studies.

Leflet attributed the decrease in ELL’s passing the writing portion due to the difficulty of  mastering a high level of academic vocabulary as a second language.

“There is a high level of academic vocabulary that is difficult for English Language Learners to master as a second language,” Leflet said.

In addition to the data on ELL students, Leflet also showed gains in the percentage of special education students passing state assessments. However, the percentage of special education students passing the writing portion of the STAAR fell by four points from 2016 to 2017.

School Board Trustee Willie Tenorio Jr. said he felt performance numbers would improve if the district were to focus more on elementary education improvement over secondary.

“I feel that the way we have set our goals in the past has been top heavy on secondary outcomes and not sufficient on elementary school outcomes,” Tenorio said.

School Board Trustee Vanessa Petrea said the district has had the TAPR for a little while now and has been developing action steps to improve student performance on STAAR tests across the district.

“We definitely have a lot of work to do but we have been talking about the action steps we need to take to improve,” Petrea said.

Trustee Esperanza Orosco expressed concerns over the poor writing scores in the district, as well as ELL’s.

She also inquired on whether the district was hiring dual language teachers with enough experience.

“I want to know how many novice teachers we have teaching ELL because there is a correlation there,” Orosco said.

In a later interview, Hays CISD public information officer Tim Savoy said the district received the TAPR over the summer and have been preparing specific campus improvement plans to address the concerns in areas like writing.

“As a district we commonly struggle with writing and we have developed plans to address writing,” Savoy said.

Savoy also said there was no correlation between the TAPR results and student density at Hays CISD campuses.

Savoy said the district follows strict state rules regarding student to teacher ratios in the classroom. Hays CISD follows a 22 to 1 teacher ration at elementary schools and 29 to 1 at secondary campuses.

“Although our school district is large, we staff our campuses at appropriate ratios,” Savoy said.

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