During the next three years, Fort Worth school board members want to see a 14-point increase in the number of third graders who meet or exceed their grade level on the state-issued standardized reading test.
In 2019, only 34% of Fort Worth ISD third-grade students were reading at or above their grade level, according to State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness data. Trustees want that figure to be at 47% by August 2024.
It’s a lofty goal — and trustees certainly recognize it.
“That’s a huge increase for a district the size of Fort Worth,” trustee Anne Darr said, referring to Fort Worth ISD’s enrollment of more than 84,000 students. “That’s a significant number.”
Fort Worth ISD board President Jacinto Ramos Jr., trustee Ashley Paz and Darr discussed the trustees’ targets for improving student outcomes by 2024 and their plan to meet them during a recent virtual forum with parents and community members.
The reading goal is just one of three the board has for the district.
The second is to increase the number of students who score at or above their grade level on the STAAR math exam to 45% from 34% — a 12-point jump.
The third goal is to have 48% of students graduate with at least one college, career or military readiness indicator. District data shows 43% of 2018 graduates had one of those indicators.
The school board members said it ultimately falls on them to ensure students are making those goals.
“It is our job that the city of Fort Worth and the residents of Fort Worth ISD have a quality education system where they can send their children, and they know that their children will have the opportunities to graduate and successfully be prepared for college, career, military and community leadership,” Paz said.
‘Shifting from a wild wild West approach’
They said they changed the way they governed the nine-member school board to a Texas Education Agency-developed strategy called Lone Star Governance. It focuses on improving student outcomes.
Lone Star Governance, Ramos said, is simply a framework to meet the board’s goals.
“It is shifting from a wild wild West approach of board members that come in with our own individual agenda, which typically are connected to campaign promises that were made,” Ramos said, adding that nine different political agendas do not create an environment for the school board to work on improving students’ academic performance.
Darr described the governing strategy as providing intentionality to focus on improving students’ education.
One way the school board can improve student outcomes is to hold Superintendent Kent Scribner accountable for meeting the three measures set by trustees. The school board evaluates Scriber’s progress on the goals during his annual appraisal.
“The goals that are created for the superintendent are indistinguishable from the goals that are created for the district,” said Paz, who is leaving the school board after two terms following the May 1 election. “If he does not hit those goals, then it’s a very different conversation than if he does.”
Scribner’s contract ends Aug. 31, 2024. He earns an annual salary of $330,000, with yearly bonuses of up to $25,000 that depend on if the district improves on these goals.
‘Improvement does not happen by accident’
To reach those objectives, Darr said, the district has adopted several measures.
Those include ensuring instruction is the same across all schools; offering additional teacher career development; and adopting reading and math skill assessments produced by the nonprofit Northwest Evaluation Association. She also pointed out that, in 2019, trustees redrew school attendance boundaries to better align academic programs.
The Northwest Evaluation Association assessments have been used to monitor Fort Worth ISD students’ progress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students did not take the STAAR test last year.
Improving student outcome goals by 2024
Early literacy: Increase the percentage of third graders who meet or exceed their grade level on the STAAR reading exam 47% from 34%.
Early math: Increase the percentage of third graders who meet or exceed their grade level on the STAAR math test to 45% from 34%.
College, career and military readiness: Increase the percentage of students graduating with a college, career or military readiness indicator to 48% from 43%.
“It was a great move that we are not counting on the high-stakes test to evaluate progress in our district,” Paz said.
Districts across the state will see how their students have fared during the pandemic once TEA releases the results from this year’s STAAR exam. Those scores will not be used to rate schools and districts.
Fort Worth ISD earned a C grade in 2019, the last time the state issued accountability ratings. It was 1 point away from being a B-rated district.
Darr said the school district and trustees can only do so much to better student outcomes.
“This model of governance doesn’t work without the community’s involvement and support,” she said. “The more engaged our parents are, the better our school district is going to be and the stronger our community will be.”
The best investment a community can make is in its students, Darr told participants.
“Student achievement and improvement does not happen by accident. It happens because we’re intentional. It happens because we’re purposeful, and we are committed to making it happen,” said Darr, a former educator. “That’s what we’re here for — the students. If we lose focus on the students, we’ve lost sight on the ball.”