More than four years ago, the Fort Worth ISD school board created a committee to study how the district can make education more equitable to all students regardless of the color of their skin.
The racial equity committee examines district practices and suggests solutions to the nine trustees on the school board to ensure students are getting their fair shot in life.
The three candidates running for the school board’s District 9 seat — Michael Shedd, Roxanne Martinez and Cade Lovelace — support that policy. But, during a Monday evening forum hosted by several neighborhood associations, they said now is the time to form a plan to see real results as Fort Worth ISD strives to eliminate learning disparities among students.
“I am in favor of now creating an equity action plan that moves that work forward and that we are creating some measurable goals around equity, so that we can begin to track its impact on student achievement,” said Martinez, the owner of Roxstar Marketing. “We know that will impact student achievement.”
Shedd, a Fort Worth police deputy chief, said race cannot be separated from student achievement — they are inherently linked in Fort Worth ISD, where 63.4% of students are Latino and 84.1% of students are economically disadvantaged.
In 2019, only 34% of all Fort Worth ISD third-graders scored at or above grade level on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness reading test, according to Texas Education Agency data.
That figure was 22% for Black students and 33% for Latino students, while 58% of white students were at or above their grade level. Only 29% of economically disadvantaged third-grade students were reading their grade level or higher.
The numbers were similar on the math STAAR test for third-graders.
“When you look at the scores, it’s readily apparent that our economically disadvantaged children (and) our children of color are performing at a lower standard than other students in the district,” Shedd said. “We need to put the resources where they need to be in order to get everybody up to this level.”
The school district cannot just rely on the state standardized test to keep track of students, Lovelace said. It has to use other assessments, such as those from the Northwest Evaluation Association, in conjunction with the STAAR to show how students are truly doing.
Shedd and Martinez agreed students are tested too much. Teachers have told Shedd too much of their time is spent proctoring exams.
“We have to track performance, but I would be a proponent of dialing that back as much as we legally can, so we remove those hurdles from our teachers and allow them to teach these students and quit worrying about additional tests,” Shedd, an Army veteran, said. “If there is any additional testing that we’re doing, I would be a proponent of getting rid of that so our teachers … are more focused on reading and math and doing what teachers do best and teach.”
Fort Worth ISD needs to look beyond using the STAAR exam as the basis for its student achievement goals, Martinez said.
“Just from working in schools and from hearing teacher feedback, obviously the test scores don’t always reflect the hard work the teachers put in each and every year,” she said. “ I think we can utilize other ways that we can assess with reducing the number of proctored tests and alleviate some of that from teachers’ duties and that way we can get back to teaching the basics.”
Not all students have had access to the same resources, Lovelace said. He wants the district to direct resources to the campuses that need them the most so that students can have the high quality education they deserve.
“Over the years, some students didn’t have the same education as others,” Lovelace said. “Now we need to address that. In our student outcome goals, we have them broken down by types of students, and that shows where different students are and where we have goals for those students, they can be increased. That’s the goal for the superintendent.”
It’s heartbreaking for Shedd that different demographic groups of students have to have different performance goals.
“I understand those are just the gaps that we want to fix,” Shedd said. “I wish we could say every kid should be at the 86th percentile in reading and in math — that’s just not the case. Based on race, those standards are a little lower because that gap is so big. I want to close that gap as much as possible.”
Martinez told participants that she knows what those students are going through.
“As a product of Fort Worth ISD and being part of those demographics, I am very aware of those challenges and obstacles that our students face because I was once one of those students,” she said. “I know what it’s going to take. I know that with the right guidance, right resources and the right tools that economically disadvantaged students and students of color can achieve. We must empower them to succeed.”