The National Staff Development Council held its annual convention in Dallas this past December and many RISD trustees, administrators, principals and teachers attended sessions.
“Staff development” is education jargon for teaching teachers how to teach. Teaching is a skill, much like learning to drive a car. You can study theory in books, but at some point you’ve got to get behind the wheel and practice. And while math may not have changed, today’s students have.
What was remarkable at this conference was that nearly every speaker referenced the recent extraordinary gains in Texas student performance.
Here’s the big news. Texas is leading the nation in student achievement gains. Whether comparing standardized tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) or college entrance exams like the SAT or ACT, ALL categories of Texas student scores are advancing.
Texas is ranked first in the nation in fourth grade NAEP results in reading, math and comprehension. Its peer states of California, New York and Florida, which are challenged with educating similar large, diverse, immigrant student populations, rank down in the 30s and 40s among a list of the 50 states.
Texas SAT scores eclipse even high ranking homogenous states like Iowa in which only about 15% of graduating seniors take the test. Forty-eight percent of Texas graduates and 87% of RISD seniors take the SAT and scores continue to rise.
The answer is simple. Texas is the only state in the union with an accountability system that reports TAAS scores in the five groupings of All Students, Anglo, Hispanic, African American and Economically Disadvantaged.
Texas schools are measured not by the success of their highest performing students, but rather by the successes of their lowest performing students.
As a result, a quiet revolution is taking place in Texas classrooms as teachers strive to make sure every student understands the material. No longer can a hard-to-teach student be left behind. No longer can Texas schools hope to bring the test averages up by just improving the top scores. They must raise student scores at the bottom.
Does this focus on the low achievers harm the rest of the kids?
Absolutely not! All students are benefiting from improved teaching strategies. Scores for average and gifted students are rising just as dramatically.
RISD, like many other Texas schools, has changed its operating philosophy from “Are teachers teaching?” to “Are students learning?”, which is a totally different business. And all students are being enriched.