Waco Independent School District schools showed mixed results in this year’s state standardized testing, with some showing marked jumps in reading and math scores, others only incremental change and a few dropping considerably from last year.McLennan County public school districts held steady or slightly declined from last year’s rebound in their average scores in the annual Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, with fifth-grade math scores dipping in many districts. Statewide, reading scores largely were unchanged from last year while math scores showed a slower recovery from the pandemic’s effect.This year’s test, given in the spring, differed from previous versions with the Texas Education Agency redesigning the test last year to better align it with the state curriculum taught in classrooms. The test of reading skills added a writing component, where students had to write answers to questions. The number of correct answers needed to achieve certain performance levels also increased. For the first time, all students took the test online rather than on paper forms.
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In Waco ISD, five elementary schools showed increases in both reading and math scores for their third grades, while six elementary schools had similar increases for their fifth grades. Two schools dropped in both math and reading for third grade while four had decreases on the fifth grade level.At the same time, third graders at seven of the district’s 13 elementary schools, and fifth graders at one elementary school, failed to meet state standards in math. In reading, third graders at five schools and fifth graders at two failed to meet state standards in reading.On the middle school level, eighth graders at Lake Air Montessori Magnet School improved on both reading and math, while Tennyson Middle School dipped slightly in both and Cesar Chavez Middle School dropped in reading while improving in math. A majority of students in the three schools passed reading and math, but a majority failed the social studies STAAR exam.Waco ISD Superintendent Susan Kincannon said she hoped to see greater improvement from last year’s scores, but found the mixed results fell short of that.”We are disappointed and it’s a setback to what we’ve been doing,” Kincannon said, referring to the forward progress the district had made in recovering from pandemic disruptions in the 2019-20 and 2021-22 school years.Kincannon was pleased with the overall increases in third grade reading and math STAAR scores, even as math scores in general have been slower to rebound. Administrators will look at increasing teacher training and professional development on math instruction for schools where student STAAR scores have stubbornly remained low, she said.For the five schools in Transformation Waco, a charter district within Waco ISD, CEO Robin McDurham said she found promise in the STAAR results, even as a majority of its elementary-level students fell short of state passing standards. At J.H. Hines Elementary, scores in third-grade reading and math were up, the latter by 12 points, as well as for fifth-grade reading and math, the latter by 16 points.The fifth-grade reading and math scores were roughly triple of those tallied two years ago in the immediate aftermath of pandemic disruptions. Alta Vista Elementary had increases in third-grade reading and math, with 50% meeting state standards in reading. Brook Avenue Elementary fifth graders also improved 9 points in reading.A majority of G.W. Carver and Indian Spring middle school students — a difference distinguished largely by TEA student ID numbers as both shared the same campus and teachers for the last two years — passed state standards for reading and approached the 50% mark in math.”We’re celebrating our gains,” McDurham said. “There’s some progress and we’re proud of the work our people have done.”Student attendance dropped dramatically during the school years affected most by the pandemic, but as attendance has recovered, student learning has found traction, she said.While state attention is focused on how well students do on the STAAR test, Transformation Waco educators rely on national Measures of Academic Progress testing as a better guide to student performance. Administered three times a year and with a testing base of some 6.7 million students, it provides a better indication on student learning, McDurham said.”It’s consistent and it’s reliable,” she said.Transformation Waco schools have demonstrated a growing rate of student learning over the last two years, and results are shared with students to give them personal goals in their learning, she said.”It’s something concrete. They can see their progress. They can measure their growth,” she said.This year’s STAAR results were cause for celebration at some Waco ISD schools.West Avenue Elementary saw a 26 percentage-point jump in third-grade reading and a 24-point gain in third-grade math. At South Waco Elementary, third-grade reading scores improved 22 points and math scores were up 14 points. Lake Air Montessori increased its fifth-grade reading score by 14 points and its math score by 17 points, with eighth-graders raising their math score by 19 points. Provident Heights Elementary third-grade math scores increased by 29 points and Mountainview Elementary saw an 18-point increase in its fifth-grade math scores.The district’s average reading score for third grade topped its pre-pandemic 2019 level, but that was the only category to do so.In all grade level and subject averages of STAAR scores, Waco ISD continues to fall below the state average. Third graders at Hillcrest Elementary School topped the state average in reading, and third graders at Lake Air Montessori School scored higher than the state average in math.On a fifth grade level, Parkdale Elementary, Hillcrest and Lake Air Montessori were above the state in reading, and Bell’s Hill and Lake Air Montessori higher than the state average in math. Lake Air Montessori eighth graders also scored higher in reading than the state average.Given the changes in the calculation of school accountability scores, the letter grade given to public school districts and campuses for academic performance and student preparation, Kincannon said this year’s scores likely will mean low grades for some Waco schools when the grades are released Sept. 26.For the Waco ISD, state calculation changes in the College, Career and Military Readiness score will frustrate what officials had viewed as progress. Last year, the district’s results in the category had helped boost Waco High School’s accountability grade from a C to a B. This year’s raw scores in the category are higher, but under the new calculations, the district instead may end up penalized.Continuing the district’s efforts to retain teachers, slow turnover and promote leadership stability also will help student learning in the long run, Kincannon said.”We start over in STAAR, but we don’t start over on our systems,” she said.
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