I want to say first that I am truly thankful for the opportunity to work for the Houston R-1 School District. This is a great community with so many people, both in and out of the school district, working to help the area grow and prosper. Recently, several questions have arose regarding the Houston R-1 School District APR and end-of-year test scores. First, let me assure everyone that your children are getting a good education at the Houston R-1 School District. The school continues to be fully accredited by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). We have some outstanding teachers and staff who work very hard to provide excellent learning environments for our students. However, as recent reports show, there are several areas that need improvement. Testing data received in October is the result of testing performed in the spring of 2016 and also shows the accumulation of performance from 2014 and 2015.
There are several parts to the DESE APR score. These include Achievement, Subgroup Achievement, College and Career Readiness, Graduation Rate and Attendance Rate. Achievement is based on scores received from end of the year tests. Grades 3-8 MAP ELA (English and Language Arts) and Math, Grades 5 and 8 MAP Science, and EOC (end of course) tests in Algebra I, ELA II (10th grade), American Government and Biology are the main tests scored for all public schools in Missouri. Subgroup Achievement is also based on these scores, however schools receive a separate score based on certain subgroups which for Houston are special education and free and reduced lunch students. In addition, achievement is based on how a school did this year, along with how the school progressed from the previous years, and how each student progressed from one year to the next. Test scores from a one-time, end-of-year test are not a perfect way of assessing student learning, however, it is one part of the APR score.
Sometimes, people offer up excuses for poor testing results. Often, I have heard people say the state tests and standards have changed each year and that accounts for poor student performance. Others have said it is getting more difficult each year to motivate students or to get the necessary assistance from home. These factors certainly affect test scores, however, these are also factors that all school districts in Missouri face. Our students are just as capable as any of the districts around us. We have to look beyond these obstacles because it is our responsibility to educate our students and make sure that they are able to succeed in the world.
When looking at school improvement, there are a couple of items to be careful of. First, there is no magic program or curriculum that needs to be purchased. Second, if a district implements too many changes, it is more difficult to determine what is successful and what is not. With that said, a district must be careful to choose research based programs and changes that have been identified to help areas needing improvement. Another necessary move should be limiting or eliminating programs or practices that hinder or keep students from progressing. Finally, improvement is not something that happens overnight. We are looking for gradual, sustained improvement in all areas. Do we want to see improvement the first year? Absolutely. However, we want improvement every year for the next 5-10 years as well.
What are we doing this year? The district has purchased i-Ready which is a new assessment and instructional tool. This was not an effort to obtain the latest fad, but an effort to move toward a stronger, more accurate assessment tool that brought with it instruction based on the individual student’s needs and goals. i-Ready pinpoints each student’s needs down to a sub-skill level and then provides continuous progress monitoring to help students meet end-of-year targets.
In addition, the Houston R-1 School District has implemented STEM curriculum through Project Lead the Way (PLTW, which was implemented through a special state grant given to schools in the 10 county SOAR region. Houston has been selected as one of the showcase schools to initiate and then demonstrate STEM curriculum working in our school. STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, allows students to become hands-on problem solvers and teaches collaboration with fellow students. Elementary teachers in grades 1-5 have just completed training and are currently prepping their classrooms. We had 13 staff members voluntarily sign up and complete the training. The teachers came back so excited and eager to begin implementing these modules into their classrooms. Our goal is to bring this to the entire elementary in 2017-2018 along with a middle school component. Eventually, this will lead to such courses as Computer Science, Engineering and Biomedical Science in grades 9-12.
As a whole, the district will be focusing on making sure teachers are teaching the new Missouri Learning Standards and utilizing instructional time. The administrative team has been working on a plan which identifies areas of concern in each building and then looking at ways to make improvements in those areas. This is important to us all.
Dr. Allen Moss was hired in 2016 as the superintendent of the Houston R-1 School District. You can contact him at 417-967-3024.