ACE schools generate big reading achievement gains for youngest learners

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The number of kindergarten through second grade students reading at or above grade level increased by 30 percent at the Dallas Independent School District’s seven Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) initiative schools.

The dramatic increase is just one of several data points Dallas ISD leaders are pointing to as measures of success following the first year of the ACE initiative, an effort to provide underperforming schools with with strong leaders and teams of highly effective teachers.

“We are extremely encouraged with the end of year reading scores for our students in kinder through second grade. We know reading on grade level is a game changer and we are grateful to our teachers for making this happen by embracing balanced literacy, growth mindset and a commitment to accelerated instruction,”said Jolee Healey, senior executive director of ACE. “These are exciting results for the inaugural year of ACE. Keeping schools open until 6 p.m. and participating with additional professional development has been challenging, but definitely worthwhile. A strong foundation of literacy that will create sustainability. It will move our focus from urgent to important and allow students to master more rigorous content for college readiness.”

The seven ACE schools are Annie Webb Blanton Elementary, Roger Q. Mills Elementary, Elisha M. Pease Elementary, Umphrey Lee Elementary, Thomas A. Edison Middle Learning Center, Sarah Zumwalt Middle School and Billy Earl Dade Middle School.

Approximately 65 percent of kindergarten students at ACE elementary campuses are now reading at or above grade level, exceeding the overall district tally of 57 percent. Likewise, more than 61 percent of first grade students at ACE campuses are reading at or above grade level, above the 57 percent of of their peers systemwide.

The number of ACE second grade students reading at or above grade level improved by 30 percentage points, to 50 percent. This places them just four points shy of the district average of 54 percent.

Blanton principal Laura Garza attributes the results to hard working students and exceptional teachers.

“The results are a confirmation that a group of dedicated, highly effective educators working together with the same beliefs can accelerate the learning of scholars,” Garza said. “As we say at Blanton, “Hard work conquers all!”

Principals at ACE schools were selected based on their demonstrated track record for improving student achievement, fostering a positive professional culture, and building strong instructional teams. Once in place, those principals had the opportunity to select their own teams of talented professionals.

An emphasis was placed on selecting teachers who were eligible for Distinguished Teacher Review (DTR) process, part of Dallas ISD’s Teacher Excellence Initiative. Recognizing the challenges that a turnaround environment poses, the district provided financial incentives for DTR-eligible teachers ranging up to $12,000 annually who volunteered to transfer to an ACE campus.

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