Beaumont ISD is a district of more than 18,000 students, with 80 percent of our students qualifying for free and reduced lunch. Our diverse student population has a high mobility rate based on family financial and employment situations, so a number of our students move from school to school during the year. This presents a variety of challenges to the fidelity and cohesiveness of instruction.
Like all districts in Texas, our accountability ratings are based on how our students perform on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests. We align our assessments with the rigor of that state test, but as I always tell my teachers in training, if you just have one piece of data, you only have one corner of a picture.
To get the complete picture, we must look at—and act on—multiple valid, reliable sources of data. Our solution is a combination of strong data-driven instruction and social-emotional learning (SEL) to build strong relationships between teachers and students.
Gathering, discussing, and acting on data
To gather the data to support this approach, we began using Renaissance Star Assessments districtwide in the 2015–2016 school year. We screen all K–8 grade students in reading, math, or early literacy at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. We also progress-monitor Tier III students at checkpoints throughout the year to track growth.
We use the information from screening to provide our students the most appropriate placements for their needs, to design targeted tutorials based on their domain scores, and to appropriately differentiate instruction in the classroom.
In the past couple of years, we have also implemented a scripted data-driven instruction (DDI) protocol to guide conversations that we hold in our professional learning communities (PLCs). For example, a campus administrator or an instructional leader will bring together fourth-grade math teachers, pull up students’ data, and discuss it together. Where did the kids go right? Where did they go wrong? Why did they have gaps in learning or misunderstand the concept?
When we see a weakness in those DDI conversations, we script out what we’re going to do to rectify these gaps in the PLC. A deep dive into the “why” and the “how” with the teachers and instructional staff determines the approaches, probing questions, and instructional delivery we will use to ensure student mastery of the missed concept. We lay out what resources we will use and exactly when we can expect it to be done. All stakeholders leave with a plan in place.
Beaumont also requires our teachers to have one-on-one goal-setting conferences with every second- through eighth-grade student at least once every grading period. To help students prepare for these conferences by tracking their own data, we produce data folders where students graph their work in reading, math, and writing at least once every two weeks.
Even with our youngest students, teachers work on setting SMART goals—meaning that they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Setting those goals and holding themselves accountable for the goals is so much more powerful than having someone else set the goals for them. When students then track what they have accomplished on a form they put their hands on, they’re much more likely to see areas where they need to improve, and to develop a growth mindset.
Building relationships through SEL
Closing the achievement gaps in our district takes more than evaluating and acting on academic data. It’s also essential that we build relationships with our students. Forging those personal connections gives students the emotional stability they need to focus on learning and having a strong relationship with their teachers makes them more much more open to that instruction.
In a high-poverty district like Beaumont, some of our students come with little or no family structure. We have young students who are responsible for the care of their younger siblings. We see students come to us from homes of abuse and neglect. As a result, we have attendance issues. We have struggles with parent involvement. We have trouble with kids rectifying their own behaviors so they are appropriately able to grasp the learning. To bring SEL in to impact these issues, we implemented the Sanford Harmony program in every K–5 classroom in the district.
Each day, they have SEL time to model practices and have conversations that tie back to the goals they have set for themselves. Our teachers create a nonthreatening atmosphere that inspires reflection through these discussions. They encourage students to ask themselves questions such as: “What can I do better? What did I miss? What missteps did I make that led to me not achieving, and how can I rectify that in the future?” The Sanford Harmony activities also foster strong, positive student-student and student-teacher relationships.
The combination of SEL and DDI tools allows us to be very precise with targeting the instruction and support that our students need to improve their current situations. My leadership team and I strive to provide every opportunity we can to help students and parents break the cycle of poverty.