The news didn’t sound totally great, but there were some bright spots in a report provided to Dallas ISD trustees on early learning program, and enough to show that the trajectory afforded by a robust focus on early learning was continuing to pay off.
Trustees were walked through the report by Ivonne Durant, the district’s chief academic officer, and Derek Little, assistant superintendent of early learning.
The program, Durant explained, encompasses pre-k, kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.
“We’re looking at students from three-year-olds all the way to, in some cases, eight years.”
“We continue to see that pre-k makes a big difference,” Little said. “We continue to see the same benefits in kindergarten with students who attended pre-K with the district.”
Little said that beginning-of-the-year assessments that are often used to measure the “summer slide” — that regression in skills that can grow rusty during the months out of school — showed an increase in that slide, but that several factors may have played into that increase.
The percentage of students on grade level fell in kindergarten by four percentage points and by five points in first grade.
Little said some direct program changes have factored into this year’s data, and that a new curriculum that aligns all the district’s pre-K offerings is paying off. That new curriculum, he said, may have given even experienced teachers a learning curve, but he was confident that results would rebound.
“I’m excited about the new curriculum,” he said. “We continue to believe that it was the right decision to make.”
Despite the news about the summer slide, Little and Durant’s data review revealed that children who have been in the district since pre-K are outperforming students who come from other districts.
In fact, 56 percent of students who attended pre-K in the district were ready for kindergarten, compared to 31 percent of students who did not attend a Dallas ISD pre-K program.
And among students who did not attend pre-K versus students who did, student performance remains higher through third grade, the district’s findings revealed. Assessment scores for kindergarteners were 38 points higher, and as they continued to third grade, they continued to have an edge over nonattenders.
Little said that the percentage of kids new to the district is going up, despite enrollment declining in the district, which means that more students who didn’t attend district pre-K are coming in, to varied results.
But that tidbit wasn’t the only interesting thing the data revealed. Little and Durant said for the first time the district began tracking the movement of teachers as they joined the early childhood grades, and when they left to teach another grade.
Little stressed that this was not teacher attrition (where teachers leave the district), but was a case of teachers leaving the early learning arena to teach another grade level.
The district found that teachers that were new to teaching that grade level were at a slight disadvantage to teachers who were experienced in teaching that grade and that it was potentially affecting assessment scores.
“That does not mean that the teacher is a novice teacher, it just means they didn’t teach that grade level last year,” Little explained.
The district also found that the sites — like Harllee and partner sites — that aligned closely with the district’s curriculum and program requirements were seeing the biggest gains and progress.
“What’s evidenced in this is that when we have a tight implementation, the results are very robust,” superintendent Michael Hinojosa interjected. “When we give freedom at our other campuses, the results aren’t as tight.”
While the district can’t do much to improve pre-K programs outside of Dallas ISD, Durant and Little said they did have a plan to address teacher mobility and to beef up summer enrichment offerings to help combat the summer slide.
“We’re already increasing our discussions with organizations on how we can increase summer enrichment programs, especially in our gen ed students,” Little told the board.
The district is also launching a program to improve literacy from kindergarten to graduation.
“It’s really important to note that we’re getting ready to launch a really robust literacy program for K through 12,” Little said.
Durant said that the district is going to work on targeting teachers at the early learning level, making sure that they support teachers that will be new to their grade level next fall by providing training and coaching during the summer and throughout the next school year.
“We’re going to start this spring, this January, to really target teachers at this particular grade level,” Durant said. “We will be very dedicated to training these teachers this summer.”
Hinojosa said the district will also be talking to principals about their findings and encouraging them to try to keep experienced teachers at their current grade levels whenever possible. He said sometimes principals will move teachers around because they show skill at a particular subject, and they see a deficit in another grade level.
Durant said that sometimes enrollment figures reveal that more teachers are needed in one grade than another, which can also prompt a principal to move teachers around.
Bethany Erickson is the education, consumer affairs, and public policy columnist for CandysDirt.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.