District progressing, but more work awaits

Feb. 4—Ector County ISD's new executive director of accountability, Jessica Gore, notes there has been a lot of student growth, but there is still more work to do.

There are also the new Texas Education Agency Accountability rules set to take effect this year, which will significantly raise standards.

TEA is going to release "what if" predictions with the 2023 accountability rules applied sometime in April or May.

"That's going to tell the community if we compare last year to this year what are we looking like with the new rules applied. I've already run all of those for our district predictions to show our campus principals where we are trending and what direction we are heading. But something I think that's important to point out is this is assuming we're performing exactly the same way we did last year and really what TEA has done is they've changed the rules to the game so they've raised CCMR (College, Career and Military Readiness) expectations. For example, for CCMR used to a 60 equaled an A on a curve. Now an 88 equals an A, so a 28-percentage point difference equals an A. So if last year we were at 65 ... now it has to be an 88 to be an A, so different rules, same game," Gore said.

The what-if predictions will have the new rules applied, so Gore said ECISD is hoping and planning to meet those cut scores.

The new accountability rules are supposed to apply for August 2023. August is when TEA releases the accountability ratings.

"As of right now, there's no hold harmless that TEA has released. What a hold harmless means is TEA says these are all the rules we're going to implement, but this year no pressure because it won't apply until the next school year. As far as we know, there's no hold harmless approved by the commissioner yet so that means these 2023 predictions are applicable for testing season in a few months," Gore said.

She is using 2022 data to predict 2023.

As a district, Gore said they have people at the Capitol running the what-if predictions with them and showing what the impact would be on campuses.

"This is across the state, not just Ector County. ... The accountability manual won't be finalized until this summer after we have tested, so we won't know the real rules finalized until there's nothing we can do to change what we've done. That's how it works every year. You predict, you predict, you predict and you hope your predictions are a good indicator of success for what the state measures as success," Gore said.

Gore said she loves accountability. She has had principal and district-level experience at Spring Branch, Houston, Lamar Consolidated and Midland.

"It's what drives our success as campus principals and for our students to measure that we're doing our job. As a campus principal, I loved accountability and predictions and how well are our kids doing and so now leading this work for the district is bigger impact but the same goal of kids growing," Gore said.

Some of the indicators can lag from one to three years behind. This includes items like graduation rates and College, Career and Military Readiness points.

Those various factors have a longer lag time than STAAR progress measures which are one year lagging. The data she presented to the ECISD Board of Trustees was for school year 2021-22.

Graduation rates, kindergarten readiness, which grew by 13 percentage points, and CCMR, which reached 65 percent. Student performance on STAAR in terms of those who approached and met in all subjects and tested areas, exceeding the state and region.

"We're not performing equal to the state yet, but our growth is catching up quickly to state performance. Then we also achieved our indicator of success related to academic growth and we are within 4 points of the state at this point based on last year's performance," Gore said.

The pressure is on.

"We feel the pressure, but we feel the pressure because it matters for our kids and so what's interesting is when we've already met some of these goals that we set out, for example two years early we met our 2024 board goal for 65 percent of our graduates to be CCMR ready. Now we've got to up to that. We're not going to stop progress just because we met the goal in 2022. Now what do we need our measure to be for 2023 and 2024? We've got to raise that bar," she added.

Asked if the recent eighth-grade course fair and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center would help with college, career and military readiness, Gore said she would hope so.

The goal is exposing kids to what's available prior to choosing their four-year course plan. The more they know, the better choices they'll make in choosing courses they like or fields they'll stay in post-graduation.

"It's our chance as a school system to showcase opportunities for our kids related to college and career opportunities," Gore said.

Graduation rate for 2021-22 was at 85.5 percent, which was the highest it had been in at least 20 years.

"That's exciting for a lot of reasons. But once again, that means we're getting closer to our target and so we've got to raise that target as a district because something I always think as an accountability person is yes, we're at 85.5, but that means we're at 14.5 that did not graduate yet. If your student is in that 14.5, that matters," Gore said.

She said the same is true for college, career and military readiness.

"Yes we're at 65 percent of our graduates being ready, but that means we're at 35 percent that have not met their CCMR point(s) required for the state yet. So those are opportunities to improve as a district. We're excited we've achieved these goals and we've exceeded the region and state in some areas (in) double digits, but we plan to continue monitoring and leading our district work through tracking of all our indicators of success to make sure it's much higher than 65 (percent)," Gore said.

ECISD has a post secondary coordinator who makes sure that once kids graduate they are enrolling, picking careers, sticking with certain industry areas.

"We actually met with Odessa College this week to find out what percentage of our kids from ECISD are coming to them; when are they enrolling? How can we increase that enrollment and so that partnership with our community college is an area we're working on to benefit our students as well," Gore said.

She added that having that on-campus connection with the early college high schools also helps.

Although there have been successes, Gore said there are areas of opportunity.

"We're celebrating so many great things, but as always, we're not perfect and we have areas we want to grow in and so while our growth in approaches and meets for all students and all grade levels did exceed the state, we're still performing below the state so our growth is catching up but our performance has to also catch up," Gore said. "That's an area of opportunity for us. Another one is to continue prioritizing CCMR readiness."

"As an accountability person, I look at numbers a lot and I predict and look at trends, but something I always think is important is CCMR is showing us our kids are ready for college and career after all these scores happen. When they leave us in 12th grade, what happens next. CCMR is that indicator for the state to show that kids are ready for post secondary options. That's an opportunity for us even though we've already met our board goal. We still have 25 percent that have not met CCMR readiness," Gore added.

Students can earn industry-based certifications in ECISD.

Pursuing further education is something they always encourage.

"However, further education is not for everyone and so having opportunities and certifications on your resume can just make you so much more marketable especially in the Permian Basin," she added.