How Renaissance Star 360 is helping drive dual-language success in a Texas district

Improving from a D-grade to an A-grade school in just two years is impressive. Doing it in two languages at a Title I school? Incredible. In Grand Prairie, Texas, an effective dual-language program is doing just that, while opening doors and helping both English- and Spanish-dominant students reach unprecedented achievement.

Ami Potts, principal at the Hobbs Williams Elementary School, attributes her school’s success to a motivated team of teachers, a new assessment program, and an adventurous approach to processes. “We first saw notable academic growth several years ago in conjunction with the district’s adoption of Renaissance Star 360® as our universal screening tool. But the biggest gains at Williams came later when we changed our tiered instruction and intervention strategies based on new insights gleaned from Star 360. Because of those efforts, our school received the state’s highest accountability rating. We also earned five distinctions, including designations as a top-25-percent campus in comparative academic growth and in closing gaps.”

The challenge: Grow faster and close achievement gaps

The Grand Prairie Independent School District (GPISD) serves more than 29,000 students in Grand Prairie, Texas, a city of 200,000 people just 15 miles east of Dallas. With open enrollment, GPISD allows students to apply to any school in the district. The district’s 43 campuses offer families a wealth of different schools and program choices, including leadership and fine arts academies, a STEM academy, a career high school, schools for the gifted, and traditional schools that also offer programs of choice for concentrated studies.

Located in the heart of the district, Hobbs Williams Elementary School educates a diverse population of 650 K–5 students. The school is one of three in the district to offer a two-way, dual-language program. In the program, bilingual-partnered students move between math classes taught by an English-dominant teacher and science and social studies classes conducted by a Spanish-dominant teacher. Williams also offers a one-way, dual-language program—where a single teacher instructs in both English and Spanish—for students early in their English-proficiency journey.

Williams often maintains a waiting list for its popular dual-language programs. But Potts adds that this wasn’t always the case. “Our student body is split 50-50 between English- and Spanish-dominant students. Schoolwide, our population is 87 percent economically disadvantaged. Like other district schools, we struggled to improve overall performance and close the achievement gap for our economically-disadvantaged population. The first step was implementing Star 360 as a universal screener with the objective to streamline response-to-intervention (RTI) processes and provide a common language for sharing data and strategies across the district. While we made progress at Williams, it was slow. So, we drilled deeper into our data. Based on what we found, we started making adjustments, including a change to our teaching strategies.”

Students

The results: Smaller achievement gaps and multiplied success

A rising tide

Potts says that Star 360 reports, including progress monitoring, growth, and instructional planning, were the impetus for a change. “After much discussion and reviewing of our Star 360 data, we realized that our focus on Tier 2 and 3 remediation didn’t close achievement gaps fast enough. When we altered our instructional focus to teach to our highest-performing students, not only did we prevent those students from regressing, but we succeeded in moving everyone forward.”

Potts emphasizes the importance of communication and implementing the program with fidelity. “Our teachers meet regularly to discuss results and strategies. Teachers provide invaluable feedback from the classroom—they know what’s working. If we need to make a change, we do. And we hold everyone accountable. All of our teachers sign a form confirming they understand that they’re responsible for adding one year’s growth to each of their students.”

“We initially implemented Star 360 for RTI, but expanded its application because of the wealth of information available. Today, Star 360 informs both individualized and group instruction, helps identify the skills and concepts teachers need to spiral in preparation for the state assessment, and lets us gauge and guide achievement for our English language learners (ELLs).”

"Our teachers meet regularly to discuss results and strategies. Teachers provide invaluable feedback from the classroom—they know what’s working.”

Ami Potts
Principal – Hobbs Williams Elementary School

More achievement

Williams Instructional Coach Jessica Henson quantifies results. “We’ve found Star 360 to be a highly accurate predictor of results on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). And although we’ve not totally eliminated the economically disadvantaged achievement gap, we’re close. STAAR results show that this year, 13 percent of our first-grade students moved up from the ‘did not meet standards’ category, and an additional 15 percent more of them achieved mastery.”

Henson says that today, at a minimum, all students take Star 360 assessments at the beginning, middle, and end of the year. “Dual-language classes take reading assessments in both English and Spanish so we can determine if they need help in skills mastery, language acquisition, or both. Previously, with limited tools to track proficiency, we largely relied on teachers’ anecdotal notes. One language survey we’ve used is limited to second- and fifth-grade students, and our students take the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) test just once a year in early spring. Before we implemented Star 360, the only way to evaluate proficiency throughout the school year was to collect writing samples. That’s an incredibly subjective, time-consuming process for teachers with classrooms of 22 or more students. Today, we can assess as often as we need to at the school level to identify deficiencies, evaluate for ELL program entrance/exit, and measure the effectiveness of our instruction.

“It’s also beneficial for our teachers to have students’ Star 360 data available in a single dashboard. Using Star 360 as a districtwide assessment tool gives teachers shareable, at-your-fingertips achievement data, a capability particularly beneficial with our school’s 14 percent mobility rate.”

"We’ve found Star 360 to be a highly accurate predictor of results on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR).”

Jessica Henson
lnstructional Coach – Hobbs Williams Elementary School

More opportunity

For all the recognition and accolades Williams has earned, their teachers care most about their impact on individual students. Potts concludes, “Star 360 is essential to the success of our dual-language program, helping boost overall achievement and expand opportunities for students. But perhaps more importantly, Star 360 gives our teachers the multiple measures of data they need to make sure no student slips through the cracks. Just recently, one of our boys was tested for special education services. He didn’t qualify, but his teacher noticed he kept coming up on the screener. Using Star 360 data, she was able to identify specific knowledge gaps and secure the resources he needed. Instead of falling ever-further behind, that young student is back on track and growing. That’s the magnitude of impact our teachers are making every day.”

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Improving from a D-grade to an A-grade school in just two years is impressive. Doing it in two languages at a Title I school? Incredible. In Grand Prairie, Texas, an effective dual-language program is doing just that, while opening doors and helping both English- and Spanish-dominant students reach unprecedented achievement.

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