Schools strive to meet COVID-19 era readiness standards
In November, the Sherman Independent School District said about 34% of graduating class of 2020-2021 were ready for college or professional programs after graduation. These students and the two classes before them have navigated through the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, distance learning and other life-related changes at this time.
In comparison, about 72% of students in the class of 2018-2019 met academic, vocational and military readiness standards.
Yet local schools and colleges are working together to ensure that area students are prepared for college or post-high school careers despite setbacks and learning loss due to the ongoing pandemic.
“It is true that there are gaps in pedagogical learning, but during this time they have mastered remote conferencing, time management, technology skills and just the resilience they have shown in the face of adversity,” said Shonda Cannon, principal of the Denison Independent School District or Curriculum.
Tamy Smalskas, SISD’s assistant superintendent for student support and engagement, attributed the decline to multiple factors outside of learning loss during the pandemic. Prior to 2020, students could be considered ready by completing a series of sequenced Career Technology courses, but these have been removed as a qualifying factor.
Additionally, military readiness was not included in the calculation because the US Department of Defense is re-evaluating how it assesses this criterion.
Currently, students can qualify for the District Readiness Score by performing well on the Texas Success Initiative college entrance exam, advanced placement exam, or other related tests.
Career readiness points can be earned by students who acquire an industry-based certification, earn a workforce readiness degree as part of a degree plan, or earn certain other certificates of study during a student’s educational career.
Since the start of the pandemic, the district has taken several steps to compensate for any learning loss that may have occurred during the pandemic. Among these initiatives is the addition of a College and Career Readiness Coordinator on the high school campus. This new staff member works with students to create individual plans for each student with post-graduation goals and how to achieve them.
Other efforts involve tutoring and outside resources to help students pass qualifying tests. Texas College Bridge is one such resource and helps prepare students for a second attempt at the TSI test.
“We’ve found that kids seem to be more successful in this regard. It’s more of a remedial program that takes kids to where they are and builds on that so they can be more successful when ‘they’re taking over the TSI,” Smalskas said. .
While the number of college- or career-qualified students has plummeted in 2020 and 2021, Smalskas said those efforts have already yielded results and early indications show 2022 numbers will be closer to pre -COVID.
“I feel like we’ve already seen the downside this year, because through individualized planning, we’re back to where we were before COVID,” she said.
Like Sherman, Denison has reported a growing number of students who are considered college- or career-ready since the onset of the pandemic and the learning gaps that have come with it.
Cannon said the district has many online resources like Sherman, but said the most successful initiative to catch up has been the district’s rigorous tutoring programs. Retired educators helped tutor students, before and after school, who fell behind.
These programs were state-mandated for students who didn’t pass the STAAR test, but also helped prepare students for life after high school, she said.
Meanwhile, Grayson College already had programs aimed at helping students at all levels transition into college life before the pandemic.
Among the programs that began amid the pandemic was the Texoma Promise program, which pledged to help eligible students by paying tuition not covered by grants and financial aid. At one of the launch events at Sherman High School, college representatives noted the school’s 100% admission rate.
The program came as college enrollment rates were down during the pandemic. According to Debbie Smarr, Dean of Planning and Institutional Effectiveness at the GC, only about 39% of graduates nationwide have gone on to college.
Of these, Grayson College earned 47% of local graduates. With 1,799 high school graduates, 696 went to college or university anywhere in the United States. 327 chose to attend Grayson College.
Smarr thinks the majority entered the workforce instead, perhaps because they were unprepared for college.
“Every incoming new degree-seeking student must demonstrate college-readiness, whether through prior class experience or by passing the TSI exam,” Smarr said.
Traditionally, students who are not considered ready for college receive additional tuition to bring them to the college level. Since 2018, the college has made it possible to take co-requisite courses at the same time.
In situations during the pandemic where testing was not readily available, the college allowed waivers based on previous course results, Smarr said.