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July 22, 2013

AISD concerned over STAAR scores

Assistant superintendent says plans already in works to improve academic achievement

Athens — Athens school board trustees and administrators expressed concern Thursday during a discussion of preliminary state standardized testing scores that have been released for the district.

Athens students scored below the regional average in 19 of 26 subjects spanning each grade level from third grade through high school on the State Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test.

Students scored above the regional average in only two areas — fifth-grade math at Athens Intermediate School (88 percent, compared to a regional average of 86 percent) and eighth-grade math at Athens Middle School (92 percent, compared to a regional average of 88 percent).

Regional comparisons were not available in five subjects.

Athens student scores were within one percent of the regional average in U.S. History at the high school and fifth-grade reading at Athens Intermediate School.

Students at the high school and middle school level were the most behind the regional averages. Among the categories in which they were deficient, Athens High School was an average of 11.1 percent behind the regional average — with the biggest differentials coming in Algebra I and English II Writing, where Athens students scored 16 percent lower than the regional average.

At the middle school, Athens students were an average of 9.8 percent behind the regional average, including 15 percent behind in sixth-grade math.

The news comes in the midst of the district’s efforts to work its way out of Stage 2 of the Adequate Yearly Progress program — a federal system which gauges student performance. AISD was placed in Stage 2 of AYP because several subgroups — African-Americans, Hispanics, special education students and students who speak limited English — did not meet federally-mandated testing progress in either math or science for at least two years.

“I am just freaked out,” Trustee Steve McElhany said of the preliminary scores released Thursday. “Obviously what we have been doing is not working. I don’t want to see numbers like these years from now.”

Assistant Superintendent Janie Sims said student performance has been affected at Athens ISD over the last couple of years by turnover at the campus and administration levels and the implementation of the CSCOPE districtwide curriculum.

Sims said scores tend to dip anytime a new curriculum is introduced, but added that the scores indicate the district must focus on the level of rigor in the classroom.

“The scores are not what we are accustomed to seeing in Athens ISD, and the district will immediately begin a process of analysis, review and development of individual school goals, as well as district-wide goals,” Sims said. “The scores will be used as a baseline to analyze and implement a plan of action to address the deficits.”

Sims said steps are already being taken to improve student performance. The district has recently hired a coordinator of elementary curriculum and instruction and a coordinator of secondary curriculum and instruction. Those educators will assist principals and leadership teams in planning, implementing and monitoring student academic progress.

She also said the district will provide training to all teachers of core subjects “from one of the leading consultants in the state.” Teachers will receive training in targeted instructional techniques and in the follow-up that is necessary to monitor student success.

Sims said stability in the superintendent’s office should help in terms of leadership and guidance as the district works to correct a number of academic deficiencies. Superintendent Blake Stiles will begin his first full year in the post after taking over as interim superintendent for Dr. Robert Steeber last October. Stiles officially replaced Steeber and the interim title was removed last November.

Stiles is the third superintendent AISD has had since the 2010-11 school year.

Trustee David Freeman indicated some of the problems with test scores may not be school-related.

“I believe this may be a problem of parental guidance,” he said. “There may be parents that are doing the children’s work for them when they bring home work.”

Sims said the academic achievement scores are just “one of four indices” for which all school districts will be held accountable by the state — which also includes student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps and post-secondary readiness. Three of these measures are new to the state accountability system.

Results will be combined to rate each campus and district. These official results will not be provided to school districts until August.

The percentage of those who passed the STAAR tests are as follows.  Under each school listed is the grade level, the subject, the percentage that passed from AISD, and then the percentage that passed from the Region 7 in which AISD is located, where information was available.

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