Thousands of Spring and Klein area students switch schools, leave their districts or arrive on local campuses every year, often resulting in declines in test scores and school performance as students and teachers grapple with the challenges of a highly mobile population.
The mobility rate—or the measure of how many students move in and out of the district over the course of the year—in Spring ISD has been close to 24 percent in each of the past four years, according to the Texas Education Agency. The statewide average mobility rate is 16.9 percent.
Klein ISD, which boasts a mobility rate lower than the state average, began addressing mobility issues within the Klein Forest High School feeder pattern in 2012 as part of the district’s Good to Great Program. Similarly, SISD began the 2016-17 school year prepared to launch new curriculum and programs aimed at repairing declines linked to high student and teacher mobility.
“We have a lot more to do, but because of the systems and processes we’ve put in place, we will be able to address all of the negative factors that impact our students,” SISD Chief Academic Officer Lupita Hinojosa said.
Mobility affects performance
Many SISD schools with high mobility rates have suffered academically. Hinojosa said students who move frequently face changes in curriculum between schools and often miss material because of the transition, resulting in poor performance.
Some of the mobility challenges faced by SISD schools can be attributed to the high number of apartment complexes within their feeder patterns, such as Bammel Elementary School, which has 17 apartment complexes within its boundaries, Hinojosa said.
Bammel’s mobility rate was higher than the district average last year—37.3 percent in 2015—but it has decreased since it peaked at 45.1 percent in 2009-10, according to the TEA.
Several schools with high mobility rates, including Bammel, have received Improvement Required accountability ratings from the TEA in recent years. When a school receives an Improvement Required rating for two consecutive years, it must submit a turnaround plan to the state and achieve a Met Standard rating within two years. Bammel earned Improvement Required ratings three years in a row, but after starting the first phase of its turnaround plan last year, it received a Met Standard rating in 2016.
“It’s very difficult to improve academics when you have over 40 percent mobility rate,” SISD board member Justine Durant said at the June board meeting when a public hearing on Bammel’s turnaround plan was held. “The kids in the seat in August are not the kids in the seat in May.”
The Bammel turnaround plan includes $558,000 earmarked for instruction, training and resources for the 2016-17 school year. New positions introduced as part of the plan include a director of school improvement and an interventionist. The school will also invest more in technology and science programs, Hinojosa said at the June board meeting.
Hinojosa said the district has developed a curriculum and teaching plan to ensure that learning will not be disrupted among students who switch schools. The district has aligned its curriculum, testing systems and databases in light of the ratings received by Bammel and other schools.
For example, test results are now placed in a single tracking system across the district accessible to both teachers and parents to ensure no information is lost or miscommunicated when a student transfers, Hinojosa said.
“What we have done as a district is acknowledge this is happening and looking inward at what we can do to address it so they are not falling behind as they go from one apartment to the next,” Hinojosa said.
The only SISD school that received an Improvement Required rating in the 2015-16 school year was Eickenroht Elementary School, where the mobility rate had increased from 26.2 percent to 29.2 percent in the last year.
In addition to addressing the challenges of student mobility, SISD has developed new plans for retaining teachers this year.
Although SISD officials said the rate of teacher attrition has decreased—from 26 percent in 2014-15 to 22.6 percent in 2015-16—the higher rates of teacher loss at economically disadvantaged schools has prompted the district to launch programs aimed at training teachers in those environments.
As part of the district’s effort to improve retention, Bammel teachers received training over the summer through a partnership with Texas A&M University’s School of Urban Learning to educate teachers about urban students’ special needs, Hinojosa said.
Students from metropolitan areas, often from low-income families, are considered to be “urban learners,” Hinojosa said. Parents in urban households often work multiple jobs, and students have less homework support at home, she said.
Thompson Elementary School is the first school in the district that will work with TAMU in 2016-17 to train five student teachers to work in an urban learning environment through the university’s Urban Student Teacher Advanced Residency program.
The student teachers will work in classrooms alongside teachers in the district for the entire school year and will have an opportunity to become full-time instructors upon graduation, Principal Robert Long said.
“It will give them an in-depth understanding of what it takes, day in and day out, to be a successful teacher in the urban environment,” Long said.
Klein Forest challenges
KISD’s mobility rate is lower than the state average, but the district has found a correlation between mobility and student performance, said Jenny McGown, KISD associate superintendent of teaching and learning. The districtwide student mobility rate in KISD has held steady between 14 and 15 percent since 2012.
However, mobility at Klein Forest High School is higher than other KISD high school campuses, with 16.8 percent of students leaving the campus in 2015. The student body is 75.2 percent economically disadvantaged and scored lower on the STAAR tests in 2015 than other schools in the district—73 percent satisfactory, compared with the district average of 83 percent.
Klein Intermediate School, which feeds into Klein Forest, has a 17 percent mobility rate, and 88.1 percent of its student body is considered economically disadvantaged. A total of 62 percent of students received satisfactory ratings on the STAAR test at Klein Intermediate, which is a Title I school.
“We know from research that student mobility has a negative impact on student outcomes,” McGown said.
To address the issues, both Klein Intermediate and Klein Forest have received funds through the district’s Good to Great program, a five-year plan that began in August 2012.
The program has provided additional teachers, instructional time and support staff at Title I schools, which are most affected by economic disadvantage and higher mobility rates. The district has invested a total of $16.8 million in the program since its implementation, said Judy Rimato, associate superintendent for communications for KISD.
“We focus on those factors that we can control in order to minimize the potential negative effects on school performance from those influences, such as mobility, that we cannot control,” McGown said.