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Dallas ISD’s ACE Program: Bringing Together Great Educators Leads to Turnaround Success for High-Needs Schools

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Cedar Hill ISD Helps More Students Access Financial Aid and College

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By |September 22nd, 2016|Bright Spots|0 Comments

Mesquite ISD: Eco. Dis. Students Outperform the State’s

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Trinity River Mission H20 Program: Using Data to Create Differentiated Interventions

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Paul Quinn College: Defying National Trends in Higher Ed

National headlines can paint a negative picture of the current and future state of higher education. The average cost of tuition, room and board for private institutions grew 10% from 2010-2015, much faster than inflation. In 2015, 1.7% fewer students completed their degrees within 6 years and fell more heavily in debt than their counterparts the year prior. It may not be surprising then that enrollment into postsecondary programs is down 2% since 2010 as more students and their parents see these sobering statistics in the news. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are experiencing even more significant challenges with their financial sustainability and student completion rates, which fall below the national average by about 25 percentage points. However, nestled in Southern Dallas, Paul Quinn College (“PQC”) is defying some of these trends despite what some would view as considerable challenges--implementing innovative practices to reduce tuition, grow enrollment, and help students persist and complete college. PQC is reducing tuition in a variety of ways, including a student work program and not requiring expensive text books. The college is assisting students to have academic and personal success, in addition to reduced financial burdens, via intensive support services such as their residential Summer Bridge Program which brings students to campus early and includes academic and social/emotional interventions. Paul Quinn College’s Successes v. National Averages: 80% of freshmen (and 84% of all students) at PQC receive Pell Grants, meaning most students come from low-income households. The cost to attend PQC was reported at $14,300 for 2015-16, which is a 19% decrease since 2012. Undergraduate enrollment at PQC grew 93% from 2010 to 2015. The College has posted six or seven figure end-of-year budget surpluses in seven of the last nine years and earned a perfect score on the Department of Education’s financial strength rating. Post-Secondary Enrollment and Tuition Nationally, enrollment has declined between 1 and 2% a year over the past several years due to macro factors such as a recovering economy and the continual rise of the cost to attend college. Yet during the past 5 years Paul Quinn College has seen enrollment not decline, but rather rise by 93%. While PQC cannot impact macro trends that would lead to higher enrollment, it has found innovative ways to reduce the price of a college degree its students bear, making a degree more attainable. Two of these cost-limiting practices include the following: Student work program: All on-campus students are required to work on campus or at an internship for a minimum of 10 hours per week during their semesters at Paul Quinn. In place of salaries PQC would pay full-time employees or independent contractors, PQC is able to pass the savings on to students in the form of tuition credit of $5,000 each year a student works on-campus. When students work off-campus, employers provide a $5,000 tuition credit to Paul Quinn and $1,500 for students’ personal expense defrayal each year a student works off-campus. This program not only helps reduce financial barriers to [...]

Mobility Outliers – How Do Schools Support Mobile Students?

If you ever moved schools or classrooms as a young child, you may remember the anxiety and nervousness that went with leaving old friends, building new relationships, and getting used to a new environment. Given how difficult change is, it’s no surprise that the potential impact of mobility on students' education is significant. Students who move often between schools may experience a range of problems such as: Lower achievement levels due to discontinuity of curriculum between schools, Behavioral problems, Difficulty developing peer relationships, and A greater risk for dropping out. Across all Dallas County schools, those with an average mobility rate of 0-13% had a higher percentage (+18% more) of students performing on grade level in reading and math in 3rd and 4th grade, respectively, compared to schools with an average mobility rate at or above 20%. The good news is that mobility is a challenge many schools are actively and creatively addressing. In fact, in Dallas County there are over 10 elementary schools with up to 30% mobility that are achieving outlier 3rd grade reading results. These 10 schools are Richland, Merriman Park, Jess Harben, and Yale in Richardson ISD; Stephen Austin in Grand Prairie ISD, Freeman in Carrolton Farmers Branch ISD; Julius Dorsey, T.G. Terry and Jerry Junkins in Dallas ISD. So, how are these schools supporting their mobile student population to achieve success in reading? At Jerry Junkins Elementary (with 1 in 5 mobile students) in Dallas ISD, there are a few impactful strategies according to Stephanie Ellis, Junkins Reading Coach: Monitor Reading Progress: At Junkins, teachers use multiple reading assessments to measure a child’s reading proficiency, including Istation and fluency probes. Teachers use this data to create and deliver targeted instruction to students in small groups. Understanding a child’s reading strengths and weaknesses helps teachers diagnose and address gaps. Stephanie Ellis points to reading data as a foundational piece to the reading support the school provides to all students: “We take students where they are and build them up from there no matter where they come to us from. We’re able to do this based on students’ needs from their reading assessments.” Quality Personalized Instruction: According to the reading teachers at Junkins, purposeful Daily 5 stations based on students’ needs is critical to supporting students who are new to the school. Daily 5 is a self-management reading system that provides students with the opportunity to read to others, practice their spelling, write independently, and build their listening skills. After School Partnership: Junkins partners with Catch Up and Read, a nonprofit literacy organization in Dallas that partners with the school’s leadership and teachers to provide high-quality after school tutoring to students who are behind in their reading proficiency. “This intervention is critical to supporting reading proficiency, especially for students who are new to the school. It helps them catch up in their reading over time,” says Stephanie Ellis. The staff at Jess Harben Elementary and Richland Elementary in Richardson ISD point to other impactful interventions for mobile [...]

Lancaster ISD: Creating Engineers by Designing Like Engineers

What happens when a group of committed district administrators, education experts and a multi-national technology company’s foundation decide that a district truly can prepare students for success in STEM careers that will be essential to the future of the North Texas region? For Lancaster ISD (“LISD”), Educate Texas and the Texas Instruments (TI) Foundation, the answer is implementing a first-of-its-kind, district-wide STEM initiative; designing, planning and iterating on curriculum and culture. The journey to close the college and career-readiness gap between Lancaster ISD and wealthier districts accelerated in 2012 when the district received a $4.8 million-dollar grant from Educate Texas and the Texas Instruments Foundation to implement the initiative—with the potential to identify effective practices other districts could integrate into the learning environment. “What adults do matters more than economics, and the right actions can mitigate the negative impact economics can have”, according to LISD Superintendent Dr. Michael D. McFarland, words that ring true in context of the impressive STEM gains made by the district’s middle school students: LISD is in the 95th percentile in its 8th grade science STAAR Level 2 Final Recommended (Postsecondary Readiness) improvement from 2012 to 2015 among Texas ISDs with 1,000 or more students. Science scores grew 19 percentage points over the period whereas Dallas County and the state grew by 4 points. LISD economically disadvantaged (“eco dis”) students outperform the state average for like students by 8 percent in 8th grade science, a notable accomplishment given that the district’s eco dis population is greater than 85 percent. LISD saw double digit gains in 7th and 8th grade math scores and a 78 percent increase in the number of middle schoolers taking the advanced Algebra 1 STAAR test from 2012 to 2015 (11 percent and 18 percent respectively). What led to these impressive gains at LISD’s 7th and 8th grade campus, Elsie Robertson Lancaster STEM Middle School? Research to understand the inputs that impact important student outcomes New curriculum that develops students’ critical thinking skills for today’s workplace Continuous evaluation and iteration on new and existing STEM learning initiatives Enthusiastic support from district leaders, partner organizations and teachers ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ You can download this complete Lancaster ISD Bright Spots PDF here. A key goal of the Commit! Partnership is to use data to help identify outlier success in Dallas-County schools. Analyzing the past three-year growth in middle school STEM, Lancaster ISD’s impressive gains in 7th and 8th grade math, 8th grade science and 8th grade Algebra 1 are surely something to be celebrated, as these middle school students will enter high school more prepared for post-secondary education and a great awareness of career pathways. To learn more about best practices across Dallas County as they are published, follow the Commit Partnership on both Twitter and on Facebook. To learn more about Educate Texas’s innovative work in STEM education you may contact Dr. Reo Pruiett. To learn more about Lancaster ISD please contact Sonya Cole-Hamilton, the Chief Communications Officer. For more information about TI’s and the TI [...]

Text Messaging Bridges “Summer Melt,” Increases College Enrollment

Given the enormous social and economic benefits, the Commit! Partnership is dedicated to increasing postsecondary participation and completion rates in Dallas County – particularly among low-income and first generation college going students. Yet even for our most engaged and prepared students, the summer after high school graduation can be difficult to navigate. Graduates don’t have access to their counselor and are not yet connected to a college campus. With these challenges, many Dallas County seniors, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, fall off track, or “melt,” at some point during their senior year or during the summer and do not enroll in any postsecondary program. After reviewing the data, we found that 64% of high school seniors completed an ApplyTX application, yet only 49% actually enrolled in a Texas institution. To address this “summer melt” in Dallas County in 2014-15, four districts and 11 colleges, with funding from AT&T, launched a texting service based on national research that allowed students to receive reminders on college enrollment milestones and text back to counselors or college staff. Overall, our Dallas pilot showed that the text messaging intervention increased college enrollment. The 1,041 high school seniors who opted in to participate were 13% more likely to enroll in a postsecondary institution compared to peers not in the texting program. When controlling for race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, GPA, and/or gender, participating in the texting program was consistently correlated with a higher enrollment rate. An even closer look at the data showed that Black and Hispanic males who participated in the program were 14% more likely to enroll in a postsecondary institution than their peers. Interviews with participating students and advisors revealed why the texting program worked: Text messages provided “just-in-time” reminders about tasks and deadlines. Students reported the texts prompted them to complete a task, such as registering for orientation, they hadn’t yet done or hadn’t realized they needed to do. “I didn’t know about next steps that I needed to take to get to college. I signed up [for the texts] because of the way that they said I would be connected to someone from my college and that they would be able to explain everything I needed to do,” shared a senior from John Dubiski Career High School in Grand Prairie ISD. Texts helped make the tasks to enrollment less overwhelming. The process of applying, selecting a college, and finalizing schedules and bills is complicated. Behavioral psychology tells us when teens are faced with large and complicated projects, they tend to freeze rather than break the large project into smaller, more manageable tasks. Text messages served as a living to-do list and helped the enrollment process seem less overwhelming. “I liked having an agenda…someone texting me, reminding me, putting up dates," said a senior from Grand Prairie High School in Grand Prairie ISD, "I liked getting lots of reminders.” Texts freed high school and college advisors to offer more unique supports. The majority of the text messages were pre-scheduled, so rather than having to [...]

Attendance Outliers: How Do We Get Kids to School?

Improving student attendance is an essential and cost-effective, but often overlooked, strategy for ensuring our students are on-track to learn and succeed. Nationwide, as many as one out of every 10 students is chronically absent – meaning they miss 10 percent or more of all school days – nearly a month of learning time lost. Across all Dallas County schools, those with an average attendance rate at or above 97.3% (the top third) had a higher percentage (+16% more) of students performing on grade level in reading and math in 3rd and 4th grade, respectively, compared to schools with an average attendance rate below 96.8% (the bottom third). Chronic absence is a leading, early warning indicator of academic trouble and later dropout. The good news is that chronic absence is a problem we can solve. In fact, in Dallas County there are over 20 schools with 80%+ economically disadvantaged students and an average attendance rate above 97%. Interviews with positive outlier schools across multiple districts show there are common best practices schools use to drive high attendance: Parent Awareness and Engagement: At Sam Houston Elementary in Dallas ISD, Principal Oscar Nandayapa points to several practices contributing to 98%+ attendance, including high expectations and parent engagement. “One of the things we have done from day one is talk to our parents about the importance of coming to school. Parent awareness and involvement is critical.” Three times a semester, Principal Nandayapa hosts “Coffee With the Principal” where parents discuss a wide range of issues. Additionally, teachers and the school counselor work together to call parents if a child is missing too much school. If phone calls and notes home are not effective, the principal and the counselor visit the child’s home. “One student didn’t come to school for three days so we drove all the way to South Dallas and knocked on his door. When the parent saw us, she was shocked. She said, ‘No one has ever done that.’ That was really effective in communicating with the parent.” What’s more, Sam Houston Elementary is seeing benefits from its attendance, with nearly 70% of 4th graders performing on grade level in math on the 2015 State STAAR assessment (ranking in the top 5% of elementary schools across Dallas County). As we all know, more time learning in quality environments leads to higher student outcomes. Celebrating Attendance: Woodridge Elementary in DeSoto ISD has all kinds of ways to celebrate students and classrooms with outstanding attendance. School Principal Torres says, “Classes have big letters in front of the room that spell ‘P-R-E-S-E-N-T’; every time there’s 100% attendance in that class by 10 a.m., the class earns a letter. If the class spells PRESENT, it earns a prize. Things as simple as gift certificates for local restaurants really help encourage the students.” The school-wide parties are very encouraging for students — along with the popcorn, candy, and snow cone machines available on site purchased by the Parent Teacher Association. Effective Attendance Clerk: At Cockrell Hill [...]

Grand Prairie ISD: Growing Enrollment & Achievement Through Choice

As we continue our Bright Spots blog series, we turn our focus to another school district: Grand Prairie ISD (GPISD), which has become a leader among Dallas County’s 14 traditional school districts in overall student enrollment growth (increasing at a 3X faster rate) while closing achievement gaps with the state. And GPISD has done so with one of the region’s higher economically disadvantaged student populations (72% vs. 59% for the state) and one of its lower operating revenues (~$5,600 per student). As shown in the following charts, GPISD has seen significant achievement growth at the Postsecondary Readiness standard level across the board, while its economically disadvantaged students have grown notably compared to the state across all subject areas. One of the key factors driving these achievements has been GPISD’s steady transition since 2012 to a robust district-wide school choice model — allowing for open enrollment across a diverse set of schools with varied program and curriculum options. Their transition is driven by their strong belief that parent and student selection of a school model that resonates personally with them leads to higher student attendance and less mobility during the school year – both critical factors influencing student achievement. At the same time, GPISD has found that campus leaders and teachers able to educate within a model that they help create and that resonates personally with them (i.e., fine arts, single gender, leadership, environmental science, career and technical, etc.) will be more engaged, taking fewer personal days and reducing the district’s teacher substitute costs. The result: GPISD over the last 5+ years has increased student achievement, most markedly within its schools of choice while higher student revenues and lower substitute teacher costs have helped pay for the increased transportation and marketing costs associated with their choice model. Most importantly, ten of the 14 choice schools that have been in operation for at least one year were recognized by the Texas Education Agency in 2014-15 as being in the top 25% of the state in terms of student progress, with three of these schools (Dubiski, Collegiate Prep and Grand Prairie Fine Arts) receiving all seven possible TEA distinctions. Strong parental and taxpayer satisfaction also led in 2015 to GPISD’s 70%+ passage of a special tax ratification election called by their Board of Trustees, creating $0.13 per $100 valuation of additional annual revenue ($14mm) locked in gong forward and targeted toward teacher pay, early childhood, and ongoing capital improvements. For more about the history behind GPISD’s decision to embark upon a school choice system, an overview of their current portfolio offerings, and a description of their parent outreach efforts, you can download this complete bright spots PDF here. To automatically recieve the next installment in this series, fill out the form below or check on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag "#DallasBrightSpots".