LHISD in good standing on STAAR

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By Christine Bolaños

Liberty Hill ISD students performed well overall in the state’s standardized tests, according to May 2015 preliminary reports. Overall, the passing rate for Liberty Hill students was 89 percent in reading, 85 percent in writing, 80 percent in science and 90 percent in social studies. Certain subgroups are in need of improvement in some areas, particularly at-risk, economically disadvantaged, special education and Limited English Proficiency.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) include annual assessments for reading and math in grades 3 to 8, writing at grades 4 and 7, science at grades 5 and 8, social studies at grade 8; and end-of-course assessments for English I, English II, Algebra I, biology and U.S. history. The STAAR measures the state-mandated Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards.

“Always when I get our scores I’m never quite sure what to think of them until we compare them with last year’s scores,” LHISD Curriculum Director Claudeane Braun told the school board at its June 15 meeting.

She showed them a document comparing last year’s scores with this year’s results with a positive or negative difference. A positive difference means the scores went up by a certain percentage. A negative difference means results decreased by a particular percentage.

“Not a lot of change. Our biggest change was with the 8th grade reading, but it was just (down) 5 percent. Now I don’t know what that means until I see what the state did. What their change rate is,” Braun explained. “Because sometimes the test is just a little harder and statewide the scores either go down or up according to the difficulty of the test.”

In 8th grade reading, for example, Liberty Hill passed with 96 percent in 2014 and 91 percent in 2015 for a decrease of 5 percent. In that same category, Texas passed with 83 percent in 2014 and 64 percent in 2015 for a decrease of 19 percent. A 2015 comparison of performance by Liberty Hill (91 percent) and Texas (64 percent) shows a 27 percent difference in that same category.

“That tells me that was probably a really difficult test,” Braun said. “So that 5 percent decrease doesn’t look that bad anymore.” In 4th grade writing, an area Liberty Hill has focused on, the district passed with 84 percent in both years for a 0 percent change. Meanwhile, the state went down 3 percent from 73 percent to 70 percent between last year and 2015. This came out to a 14 percent difference in 2015 results for 4th grade writing between the district and the state.

“I think that was more the character of the test than our students not showing growth. Of course, when we compare one year to the next it’s a totally different group of students because our other students have moved up a grade level,” Braun said.

District officials expect Liberty Hill to perform “double digits” better than the state percentage-wise in several categories.

“Compared to the state we’re doing very well,” Braun said. “But that’s not the end of the story because we do a lot of planning of our data and so we need to very carefully look at our subgroups.”

The curriculum director explained it is expected for at-risk students to perform lower than other subgroups. Factors for difference in performance include not passing their courses or not being up to grade level.

“Those are our struggling students and we hope we’re identifying them correctly so these are students we’re already working on,” Braun said. “Our reading wasn’t so bad (71 percent), but we have a ways to go in other subjects.”

Other groups such as economically disadvantaged performed noticeably low in science while LEP and special education students performed among the lowest in several areas.

“We talked about our initiative for academic vocabulary that we think is going to help that. We also have our Hispanic students and you will see the science hit hard on that one too,” Braun said. “Two groups that are much smaller but we have to keep in focus are our LEP students. We expect those scores to be lower because those are students that still aren’t proficient in English and we’re giving them English tests and we see where we need to focus our energy there.

“Special education, we see that in some groups we still have a ways to go,” Braun added. “Statewide they did away with the modified test and we are making a move for including into the (general education) curriculum. We’re doing co-teach, we’re doing inclusion in classes with support. Very little pull out because these kids are tested on the same test as the others. We have a computer version that gives them accommodations that will read some words for them, but the questions are the same.”

Braun noted teachers may have been giving special education students modified instruction one or two grade levels below other students.

“Emphasizing that reading and math level – what we’re doing now should show change over time,” Braun said. “Statewide the scores were very low for that STAAR accommodated and many of those kids were being moved from the modified to the accommodated that made a difference in our scores, too.”

The curriculum director explained that the STAAR results will guide the district in its future planning. “We look at it per campus with the individual groups, break it down so that we know we are planning according to the needs that our assessment data shows,” she said.

Looking at it at the campus levels allows educators to ensure students needing intervention get the attention they need to perform better in the future.

“Overall, I think we’re moving in the right direction. We just are going to need to target and then keep some of the things we’re doing like our changes in our writing program, our academic vocabulary, our (strategy) for struggling readers,” Braun said.

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