Part 3 – Supt. Scott Sheppard responds to TEA measures
By Rich Heiland
Free Press Publications, LLC
For Walker County News Today
HISD SUPERINTENDENT Dr. Scott Sheppard is not a big fan of the logic or methodology the state of Texas uses to assess and grade the local district. Or any other ones, for that matter.
That doesn’t mean, though, that he doesn’t pay attention to them, in large part because other people do. But, those scores are not going to drive how he approaches what happens in the district’s classroom.
The Texas Education Association recently gave the Huntsville District an “F” in terms of its new accountability standards. A big chunk of the score is based on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STARR tests).
The tests measure students across language, math, science and reading and chart the outcomes based on state measures of where a student should be the time the snapshot is taken.
As an educator, Sheppard has a word for that. “Absurd.”
“The way the scoring system is set up presumes one thing that is absolutely not true – which is that A kid at a certain grade level will be able to perform exactly the same. And that’s not true,” Sheppard told Walker County News Today.
“That absolutely defies common sense. Would we say that just because you are 16-years old you are going to be a certain height? We are not all the same height at that age, so who really believes that every 16-year-old will perform exactly at the same level. That’s just an absurd measuring system,” Sheppard said.
“So, we have that concept that our accountability system assumes that just because a child is a certain age, they should read and perform math at the same level as all their 12-year old peers. Well, there is nothing magical about being 12 years old,” Sheppard told Walker County News Today. “Just because you are 12 doesn’t mean you will read at a certain level, that you will understand math at that level.”
BEYOND THE STARRtest, the system makes no allowance for the funding schools have, whether citizens have voted bond issues to upgrade facilities to keep up with demand, and free other money for curriculum and teachers.
It also holds districts accountable, as we have noted in this series, for those things outside its control.
Take the category “Closing the Gap.” That category points out that there are gaps between African American and White, Hispanics and Whites, Hispanics and blacks, Hispanics and African Americans and Asians and so on.
That’s undeniably true. But given all the socio-economic forces that help create those gaps, just how much can the schools do? When students come to school hungry, tired, stressed out and often ill, what does a classroom teacher do?
The reality is if you look at the TEA report, there are areas where improvements are being made across all racial lines and we get into those elsewhere in the series.
Sheppard says all the district can do is set its standards and work to help students get to them.
“Our approach is going to be to make sure we are teaching to the mastery level with all of our kids, regardless of what level they are on currently,” Sheppard said. “You design the instructional level for individual kids based on where they are today and where you need them to be by the end of the year.”
WHEN IT COMES to raw comparisons with other districts, that where it gets into “apples and oranges.”
Take New Waverly Independent School District for example. Since the ratings came out there have been comments about why NWISD did so well compared to Huntsville. Fact is, the comparisons can’t be made for the most part.
New Waverly overall scored a “B” overall. But, New Waverly has 1,066 students and Huntsville has 8,257. New Waverly has four school buildings while Huntsville has eight.
NWISD does not have HISD’s diversity. For example, Whites are 65 percent of the students and English learners are only 4.5 percent in New Waverly while they are 11.1 percent in HISD.
New Waverly remains a small rural town, while Huntsville is a booming county seat city, home of county, state and federal services for lower income residents, not to mention most non-profit aid organizations.
But, that could change as more and more growth slides north to New Waverly. The future could present some challenges for New Waverly. Will that growth bring wealth, or will it bring more low income families and single parents? It’s worth noting the two districts already are tied at around 48 percent when it comes to economically disadvantaged students. But, even if the growth comes with money, it could tax NWISD physical facilities.
In the end, HISD’s grade is what it is and Sheppard knows he has to play the “accountability game” in terms of living with measures he doesn’t necessarily agree with. But, he says, he’ll do that by being focused on the classrooms – teachers and kids.
Part 4 – Digging into issues inside and outside HISD
Part 5 – First part of an interview with Supt. Sheppard
Part 6 – Final installment – A new approach
Rich Heiland, former publisher of the Huntsville Item and owner of Free Press publications, LLC, a reporting/writing firm working with media, has been a reporter, editor and publisher at several daily papers. He was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team. He taught journalism at Western Illinois University. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or 936-293-0293.