|Our Story- The Central Texas CGLR
Driving with Data
Most of the time when we say the word “data”, eyes start to glaze over and people look at their phones or watches wondering how long the lecture is going to last? Data is not always glamorous, captivating or motivating, but in Central Texas… data is driving action, and ACTION is exciting!
Founded in 2006, E3 Alliance (E3) acts as a catalyst for change, working to break-down barriers and build better alignment across the education continuum from cradle to career. At E3 we use a collective impact approach to bring together a broad range of community representatives to work together to achieve change by engaging dozens of businesses and nonprofits, 13 school districts, eight institutions of higher education and policy leaders to address complex community issues through a common strategic plan. The Blueprint for Educational Change™ outlines four goals that are closely aligned to the goals of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, reaching almost 450,000 students in Central Texas.
The first priority of the Blueprint for Educational Change™ is that: All Children Enter Kindergarten School Ready. The first challenge we encountered as we embarked on this work was was identifying how ready our kids were. Never in the history of the state has there been a standard for school readiness, so we didn’t really know what kids needed to be prepared. To address the issue, our community wanted a baseline to mark progress and better understand student readiness. So, in 2008, E3, with United Way, Education Service Center R13 and San Marcos School District, led a collaborative taskforce of Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers, early childhood experts, and community members who worked for almost two years to develop the first standard for school readiness in the history of the State. The team took the best of what was already created, and melded it with new resources that would complete a comprehensive toolkit for school readiness.
It’s called: Ready, Set, K! and has 3 main components:
1. For students: a powerful and holistic assessment of their readiness for school.
2. For teachers: instructional practices to build readiness.
3. For families: tools to support learning and instruction at home.
E3 has used Ready, Set, K! for 3 years to study student readiness and the factors associated with readiness across our region to support better practice and policy. Currently, Ready, Set, K! instructional practices are being used in 15 regional school districts. Nine out of 10 Kindergarten teachers in the study report that Ready, Set K! has benefited their teaching and instruction and since the release of RSK, Kindergarten Readiness has increased from 50% to 56%.
In addition, RSK! has provided the community with better data about the factors correlated with school readiness. Kindergarten students who attended pre-K were more than 4 times as likely to be ready for school than students who did not attend. However, among low income students who attended Pre-K, 45% were still not ready for Kindergarten across all competencies. This presents a dual agenda for the region: the need to support Pre-K, especially for our poorest students, and the need to improve the quality and consistency of Pre-K instructional practice in public and private programs to ensure that all children get the most out of this critical system.
Using data to drive action, we have already seen positive systems changes emerge based on the outcomes of the Kindergarten Readiness study:
Texas school districts supported funding for full day Pre-K in the strapped 2011-12 budget year in-part based on the outcomes of this study.
Several legislators in favor of eliminating state Pre-K funding changed their minds, and votes, when they saw the results of the study.
Business groups have taken on the challenge to help ensure that every eligible child enrolls in pre-K
Austin/Travis County has adopted the goal of 70% of children entering Kindergarten ready for school by 2015, using the Kindergarten Readiness measures.
Due to our relentless persistence, strong and valid data and community collaboration, the Central Texas community is no longer asking IF pre-K is effective, but instead, how do we get more children access to high-quality pre-K programs?
All Children Kindergarten Ready
Central Texas schools have been working to improve attendance for many years, but something was missing. In 2011, at the request of area superintendents, E3 launched the regional attendance campaign Missing School Matters, with the help of Attendance Works. In its second year of implementation, this broad and deep community effort, based on using objective data to identify leverage points for change, appears to be having a big impact. In fact, 2011 was the first year measured where even though student enrollment across the region continued to grow, the overall days students were absent actually dropped. From 2011 to 2012, this drop in absences saved our region’s schools $7.5M. From 2012 to 2013, absences increased slightly, but not as much as enrollment growth would have predicted, thus the overall regional savings is expected to be at least $5M annually.
Summer Learning Loss
School Readiness and Attendance were already on the radar of E3 and our community partners when we joined the work of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading. Addressing the third priority, Summer Learning, has certainly been the greatest challenge in our community due to a myriad of factors. The disparate systems in place, multiple measurements of varied effectiveness used by schools and summer programs, and the lack of dialogue in the community about the issue made it nearly impossible to get a baseline understanding of the impacts of summer learning loss is in Central Texas. Even with all of the hurdles, this issue area provided an opportunity for growth, and spurred us to gather community organizations together to begin work on best practices in summer programming to ensure that we are making the most of our resources, and identifying new opportunities for growth. We conducted a needs assessment, partnered with Austin Independent School District, our local PBS station KLRU, the Central Texas After School Network to provide free training to summer camp providers that center on identified best practices, and also partnered with a web based business, Camp Sloop, to provide information for both community planners and parents about summer programs in our community.
In this case, the data has followed the awareness. By raising the profile of summer learning in the community, preliminary research into summer learning loss in our region was conducted by one of our partner school districts. Using spring reading assessments matched to fall reading assessments, we have some startling findings that have just been released:
Across grades K-2, about 22% of students who were on/above grade-level in the spring were below grade level in the fall. Of those below grade-level in the spring, 85% remained below grade level in the fall.
If a 1st grade student was below grade level in the spring, he/she was significantly more likely to remain below grade level in the fall than were second or third grade students.
The school district is now in the process of creating recommendations based on this data, and identifying ways to proceed with more consistent data collection that will better predict which groups of students may experience a loss of literacy skills from the spring to the fall.
What have we learned?
The Campaign has been a wonderful opportunity to solidify relationships with community partners, better define our goals, and work together to accomplish positive changes in the education community. Our work in School Readiness and Attendance were already well established and underway, and the Campaign has allowed for added excitement and resources around topics that are critical to student success in Central Texas. The most powerful impact of the Campaign has been the identification of the need to better measure, collaborate and coordinate summer learning opportunities… especially for the children who need it most. Under normal circumstances, E3 begins the conversation with data, but in this case we were spurred by the Campaign to take action to achieve meaningful short-term impacts, and then look to the data to better inform our practice as we continue to build a robust plan for addressing the summer learning needs of students.
What’s the biggest take away?
E3 works mainly in the Central Texas area and we strongly believe in a regional approach to systems change in education. Collaboration within and between communities is essential to success. The Campaign has broadened that message even more by building a national collaborative that allows for the sharing of resources amongst organizations with a common goal across the nation. Knowing that support system is in place has been a big motivational factor as we move forward with our work. We are not in this alone, this is bigger than Central Texas, and we have a national movement in the game with us making sure that we take ACTION so that all children are reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade.