Texas elementary jumps from acceptable to exemplary rating

United D.D. Hachar Elementary School in South Texas’ United Independent School District was rated Academically Acceptable by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) at the close of the 2005-2006 academic year. In the fall of 2006, a fifth grade teacher was given Study Island and the challenge of improving academic performance. By the end of the academic year, the school was deemed Recognized, and a year later earned Exemplary distinction from the TEA for the first time in its 35-year history.

Miguel Chavez had taught at United D. D. Hachar Elementary School for more than a decade when he was asked by his principal in 2006 to move to the fifth grade to help improve the academic performance of the school’s older students. The year before, the campus of more than 400 Hispanic students in South Texas’ United Independent School District, had been ranked Academically Acceptable, based on the results of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). Passing scores for the fifth grade had been 66% in reading, 69% in math, and 42% in science.

“Our student population faced some significant challenges,” said Chavez. “The majority have parents who are not English speakers, which creates a real issue with vocabulary, and most are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged. However, my principal’s expectation was that we help prepare these students pass TAKS.”

Chavez had one tool he felt would make the difference in setting his fifth graders on a path to academic success – Study Island, which provided web-based instruction, practice, assessment, and reporting built from the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

“I was a believer in Study Island from day one,” said Chavez. “I used it first as a resource guide to understand where my students needed to be at the end of the year. Then, in my classroom, we used Study Island with the SMART™ Board interactive whiteboard. The rigor of the program kept me on my toes and helped set the direction of my teaching. When we used Study Island, it wasn’t just another day at school, students would ask for it by name the moment they walked in.”

At the end of the first year of using Study Island, the fifth grade passing scores in math were 98 percent, up from 69 percent the previous year. In science 87 percent of students achieved passing scores, up from 42 percent, and in reading, 83 percent of students passed, up from 66 percent. Students that had historically passed TAKS achieved commended status, while students that had once struggled now passed, according to Chavez.

“I tracked the performance of individual students and saw Study Island helped make a difference in not only their TAKS success, but also in their everyday vocabulary. The next year, we had 100% of students pass following the test’s second administration.This is impressive, given the high percentage of lower socioeconomic Spanish speakers. The odds were against them, yet these students did the work and passed. I’ve never seen a program address the needs of at-risk students so completely and effectively.”

In 2007, a year after Chavez moved to the fifth grade, United D.D. Hachar Elementary was rated Recognized by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), going on to earn the coveted and highest Exemplary rating in 2009. The Exemplary rating was accompanied by commendations in both math and science. This was the first time in United D.D. Hachar’s 35-year history to earn the Exemplary rating, and helped earn Miguel Chavez the honor of being named District-wide “Teacher of the Year” in 2010 for his consistent achievement with students.