Report card redesign: Education commissioner unveils new student scoring system

HARLINGEN — The lines and numbers run like a mind-numbing bar graph across the sheet of paper.

They’re supposed to tell you how well your son or daughter performed on state exams.

“Scale Score 950,” it says for reading. “Level 11: Satisfactory — No.”

“Oh, I see,” you think to yourself. “I’m so happy to get my daughter’s report card. Now I know almost nothing about how well she did on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.”

It may sound funny, but it really isn’t. That’s why Mike Morath, education commissioner for the Texas Education Agency, was in the Valley yesterday.

He was talking to parents and educators about a complete redesign of the STAAR report cards.

Gone is the boring bar graph with the pale green heading and numbers without explanation. In its place is a colorful and easy to understand report which puts a whole new spin on those numbers.

“We are providing some context for Mom and Dad,” Morath told educators at a meeting in the library of Gutierrez Middle School.

Morath had just finished visiting with students who were learning about coding. The district was giving the students a preview of “Got Code,” a five-day summer camp scheduled for next week. The students were programming different kinds of code.

This kind of robust learning by young minds is one of the reasons readable report cards are necessary. Those cards are actually more like flyers, with sections divided by purpose and colors.

“They’re going out to parents this week,” Morath said.

There are numerous examples of how the new test is an improvement over the old.

In the “Proficiency: 8th Grade” report card, parents will see the same reading score, but it will also sit on a graph divided into sections labeled “Did not meet,” Approaches,” “Meets” and “Masters.”

Another section is labeled “Your Child’s Proficiency At A Glance” and shows whether a child scored “Did Not Meet” or one of the other levels for each subject.

The back sheet titled “Parent Resource Tool” contains sections labeled “Reading” and “Mathematics.” Each section has activities parents can do with their children.

“Discuss with your child the book he/she is reading,” reads one exercise.

“If your child has a cell phone, discus the details of the phone bill,” reads another.

This is entirely new and offers more opportunities to engage parents in their child’s school work.

“Sometimes Mom and Dad can help them after school,” Morath said.

Parent participation is crucial when you consider the importance of a child’s progress through school.

“As kids get into high school, this morphs into how to help them prepare for college,” Morath said. “We’re trying to demystify and explain why the questions are on the test,” he said. Then, giving an example, he said, “Why should this grade be able to multiply up to 10 times 10?”

He presented numerous examples of how the new report will differ from the old.

“For the first time, there’s going to be a resource reading list,” Morath said, referring to the image of a small boy with a load of books.

The caption with the image said, “Here are some books recommended for your child’s grade.” The load of books includes “Treasure Island,” “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Ben Franklin’s Almanac.”

Educators at Gutierrez Middle School yesterday were impressed.

“I think the more information we can give parents the better their education is going to be,” said Alicia Noyola, chief academic officer.

“This new exam that has been brought forward brings clarity to the assessments,” she said.

The new exams arriving in the mail will soon allow parents to better assess how they can assist their children’s progress through school and into the future.

Kids show off coding skills for commissioner

HARLINGEN — Timothy Castillo tapped away on the tablet, sending out orders to the robot rolling around on the floor.

“I am teaching my robot so when he starts going forward he can move and then stop,” said Timothy, 11, one of the many young coding enthusiasts yesterday at Gutierrez Middle School.

He was one of about 25 kids who enjoyed a preview of next week’s “Got Code? Tech Camp is 4 U.”

Mike Morath, commissioner of education for the Texas Education Agency, was visiting the school where local children were either participating in camps already in session or preparing for upcoming activities.

There was even a tech team troubleshooting problems that needed to be fixed.

“We are trying to do the shark,” said Vivian Garza, 10, who is taking the Harlingen school district’s Robotics Camp.

That camp began last week and concludes today, with 28 children participating. It’s an entirely different program. The “shark” is a mission which young robotics enthusiasts had to program a robot to accomplish.

While Vivian is by now something of a seasoned robotics participant, others were still getting familiar with new territory.

“We are building this,” said Santos Trevino, 9.

“We have to put it back here,” Santos said. Then, grasping a Lego piece, added, “I like these things.”

Morath also had a chance to visit with the Tech Jags, which is the student tech team at Gutierrez.

“It’s fun. We do a lot of coding and programming,” said Diego Aragus, 13, as he and his fellow team members did some troubleshooting.

“We input wires and we are doing Adobe video diaries,” said Esteban Espinoza, also 13.

Morath stopped and visited with numerous students along the way and expressed his admiration at their industrious nature.

“It’s really great to see these kinds actually engaged in robotics,” Morath said. “You can see them learning how to code.”

Meanwhile, the 25 students preparing for next week’s Got Code rotated between five different stations, one of them being the “Dash” in which Timothy was engaged.

“They build the castle and they program Dash to move to the castle and knock it down,” said Monica Alvarado, teaching and learning specialist.

Other stations had such colorful names as Ozobots and Parrot Drones

“Each one has a coding language,” Alvarado said. “They code it and then they tell the robot or the drone what to do. They take them through obstacles to manipulate and move them in certain directions.”

STAAR test: Proficiency 8th Grade

Each student under this exam is evaluated in these four subject areas using one of four levels of achievement.

Four Levels of Achievement:

1. Masters Grade Level: Mastery of the Course knowledge is shown

2. Meets Grade Level: Strong knowledge of course content

3. Approaches Grade Level: Some knowledge of course content, but may be missing critical elements

4. Did Not Meet Grade Level: No basic understanding of course expectations is shown.

Four Subject Areas Graded:

1. Reading

2. Mathematics

3. Social Studies

4. Science