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Cain

In continued efforts to improve the academic ratings of Brook Avenue Elementary and J.H. Hines Elementary schools, Waco education officials will report to the state on their actions to help the students improve their annual test scores in Austin on Oct. 29.

Senior level Texas Education Agency officials will hold a hearing in which they will decide if increased measures need to be installed to help the district reverse the downward trending schools.

Waco ISD Superintendent Bonny Cain and board of trustees President Pat Atkins among other Waco ISD officials will be allowed to present for an hour and a half on each campus and will explain the efforts they have made in improving the schools’ scores within the last few years.

“They want to know: Are we doing what they asked us to do? Are we making a reasonable effort?” Cain said.

Texas Education Agency Information Specialist Lauren Callahan said the longer a campus receives a failing grade, the more a district is required to do.

State law allows the commissioner to instate or increase a monitor’s involvement, establish a “community partnership team” on the campus-planning level or instate sanctions. A campus isn’t considered for closure until after six consecutive years of failed ratings.

State accountability ratings are based on a four index algorithm compiled from the number of students who pass the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.

Different grades receive different tests in topics such as math, reading, science and history.

Once the tests have been administered, the state measures the number of students who passed and gives points to a campus based on the amount each student learned during the year, the number of students in the lowest performing demographic group that passed and how many students received high grades on their tests.

Brook Avenue’s scores fluctuated in the past three years with 35 percent of students passing in 2012-13 school year, 44 percent passing in 2013-14 and dropping back to 35 percent again in 2014-15.

Cain blames much of Brook Avenue’s difficulty in raising its scores on the lack of urgency. Former Brook Avenue Principal Dara Delony resigned two weeks ago and Cain said her absence will allow her to instate a principal that understands the incredible need to improve the campuses’ scores.

“There will be more accountability,” she said.

Interim Principal John Turpin is currently interviewing staff and performing class observations to identify teacher and instructional needs on the campus.

Turpin said he is already planning to allow teachers of all grades to have meetings so the teachers for the lower grades know how to better prepare their students for what is coming.

Professional development will also be a focus on the upcoming year, especially for fledgling teachers, Turpin said.

“We are dealing with a lot of first-year teachers. Not this year, but they were first-year teachers last year. And so that may have been a contributing factor to the decrease in scores,” Turpin said.

“Now that you have a year under your belt, what do you need to take you further and get your scores up to where they need to be? And staff seems to be responding well to that.”

Cain said J.H. Hines has a different set of problems after receiving an entirely new staff in the previous few years, which can often delay improvement of a campus as the educators adjust to change.

Hines’ state scores also fell during the past few years starting with a score of 41 percent of the students passing in the 2012-13 school year, 32 in 2013-14 and even further in 2014-15 at 28 percent.

Principal Tra Hall said the academic scores don’t accurately portray the progress being made on campus, since the demographic at Hines doesn’t perform well for the length of the standardized tests, which are four hours.

Hall said the campus has met its requirements on student growth and expects the new instructional methods being made on campus, such as small-group guided reading and math sessions, will continue to raise that number.

“I think (the hearing) is a great opportunity to showcase the wonderful work that our hardworking, dedicated staff have been doing. We don’t have any reason to believe (the commissioner) will be unsatisfied,” Hall said.

“Quite the contrary, we believe they will recognize the research-based, high-yield strategies we’ve put in place.”

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