By BOB PALMER
Although Jefferson schools received a “met standards” in 2017-2018 from the Texas Education Agency, state test results like only 30 percent of Jefferson students met grade level in two or more subjects while the Texas average was 48 percent have caught the attention of the district staff.
“Many of our STAAR scores are concerning,” JISD Superintendent Rob Barnwell told the Jimplecute, “but we are committed to improving in all areas.”
The JISD program is wide ranging.
“We are just beginning to implement new expectations/systems concerning student progress, particularly related to Response to Intervention (RTI) and Professional Learning Communities (PLC),” Barnwell said. “These basically require our principals and teachers to assess and review student data in a more detailed way.”
In reading the JISD “met grade level” score was 39 percent. For writing the number was 29 percent, science 32 percent and social studies 34 percent.
The JISD plan “also requires our teachers to meet and communicate as a group more, which helps to determine strategies and/or manipulatives that work for some students and may not work for others,” Barnwell continued. “Anyway, it’s basically a way for teachers to ‘share’ ideas and communicate with each other about specific students and strategies related to the essential knowledge and skills that are being taught/learned.”
Barnwell wants to ensure Marion County residents understand one group is not to blame.
“Low state test scores sometimes tend to make folks think that teachers are not teaching, which is not the case most of the time,” Barnwell said. “Our teachers are teaching, and students are learning, but we may have to tweak ‘how’ we are teaching something, or perhaps the ‘depth’ of a concept through various questioning techniques in order to induce a higher level of critical thinking. It’s almost like the old adage of “don’t work harder, just work smarter.”
A higher degree of buy-in is part of the effort.
“We have a renewed commitment to increase reading comprehension at the lower grades, which we’ve recognized as being an issue,” Barnwell said. “Poor reading/comprehension skills affect all areas of education, including math, science, and social studies, so that is an area of focus for us.”
These efforts have engendered renewed optimism.
“We are absolutely hopeful that scores will improve,” Barnwell said. “However, we are mainly concerned about individual, student progress…..learning more, improving individually, and expanding in all areas….every day, every year.”
Barnwell resents attempts to compare JISD to any other district or non-educational parallel.
“I don’t think public education can be legitimately compared to any other entity,” the superintendent said. “There’s nothing else like it. Even comparing one public school to another is absurd in most cases.”
Differences between districts make comparisons pointless.
“There are too many variables that are not taken into consideration, but should be,” Barnwell said. “For example, one could ask the question, ‘How did School A stack up against School B regarding state test scores? They both have about the same breakdown regarding student population. So, wouldn’t that be a legitimate comparison?’”
Barnwell’s answer is “No.”
“School A may have a higher tax rate that enables them to hire extra personnel to serve as interventionists – folks to help the struggling students in a small-group setting, or perhaps even a 1-on-1 setting. Therefore, School A has an advantage over School B in that scenario,” Barnwell explained. “However, it is a fact that even districts across the state which have the exact same tax rates receive varying amounts of funding per student, which is not fair.”
One district may receive about 8-10,000 thousand dollars per student, while a seemingly analogous district receives 5,000 per student, even with the same tax rates.
“Every school is different because every child is different, every teacher is different, all their circumstances are different, our environments are different, and our resources are different,” Barnwell said. “So, most comparisons to other districts are not legit. Therefore, it is my belief that all comparisons/analogies related to other entities (outside of education) are definitely not ‘fair game.’
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