Boom or Bust Academics

Amy Frith

Part Four of Our Special Blog Series

Boom or Bust Academics: Digital Tools Help Bring Continuity to Learning for Oil Families

The oil city of Odessa in West Texas has a colorful story of extraordinary beginnings and rapid growth. Situated in Ector County near the Permian Basin, an area responsible for a tremendous portion of U.S. oil production, Odessa attracts oil workers from all over the country in times of boom. However, the expanding population is prone to grapple with unique challenges that stem from inflation and the transient nature of their labor force.

In Odessa, students and teachers of the Ector County Independent School District are often impacted by disruptions in their education. One might call their experience “boom or bust academics,” as the continuity of learning is often interrupted by the tendency of oil families to make sudden moves in order to find work. Lately, Ector County ISD has had success in leveraging digital learning tools to help restore some stability for these students and teachers.

Odessa was originally founded in 1881 as a water stop and cattle-shipping point on the Texas and Pacific Railway. It became the county seat when Ector County was first organized in 1891, and was incorporated as a city when oil was discovered on the Connell Ranch in 1927. Throughout the twentieth century, Odessa’s population and economy grew rapidly during each successive oil boom—and contracted during the interspersed busts.

Today, the city’s economy continues to be driven primarily by the oil industry. Many of the city’s largest employers are oilfield supply companies and petrochemical processing companies. Recently, city leaders have begun efforts to decrease the city’s reliance on the energy industry in order to moderate the boom-bust cycle and develop greater economic sustainability. This has led to the growth of the logistics industry in the city, using Odessa’s location along the major road and rail links to West Texas1.

Challenges in the School District
Education in Ector County ISD is impacted by this reliance on the oil industry. Oil families are inclined to move from rig to rig for work, and their children follow. This transient lifestyle makes it difficult for students to have continuity in their education.

Students may move from school to school within Ector County ISD, or from one district to another in the middle of a school year. Each time they move, they must adapt to the curriculum at their new school. Their teachers are challenged with understanding their skill abilities and bringing them up to pace.

In more extreme scenarios, students relocate with their families to rigs that aren’t near a district and may go without school for 30 to 60 days. When they return to school, they have fallen far behind and are not prepared for the standardized tests that they are still required to take each spring.

Personalized Learning at Their Fingertips Leads to Success
The Stride™ program is one digital learning tool used with many of these transient students to enable them to stay on pace with Texas’ state testing system. Because it is online and accessible 24/7 from any Internet connection, Stride is always available to these students for skills practice, even when they are away from school.

“We try our very best to give students access to tools that will reach them at their existing skill levels,” says Leslie Bonds, former Curriculum Facilitator for Secondary Campuses at ECISD. “Stride supports all modalities of learning while providing a systematic analysis of successes and areas of need. Most students have smartphones, which they can use to access Stride anytime, anywhere. Having this at their fingertips has led to their success.”

Stride is diagnostic, adaptive, and self-adjusts to target the skill areas where a student needs the most help. For teachers who are welcoming new students who have just relocated to their school, the Stride tool can help them understand where the student is performing and delivers appropriate content for the student right away.

“Teachers do not have to be fluent or strong in analyzing data to use Stride,” says Bonds. “The program practically drives itself, and the data reports are very easy to print out and use in planning next steps for teaching these students.”

Implementing Stride in a Rotation Model and Student Intervention Groups
In ECISD, students access Stride for skills practice during classes and during a 35-minute homeroom called “Homeport.” Once students complete a unit, they are eager to see their Progress Monitoring Assessment (PMA) reports, or “stoplight” reports, which visually depict their academic growth. When students master a standard, it turns from red to green on the report, hence the nickname. This immediate data not only helps students recognize their strengths and weaknesses, it serves as encouragement for students to keep practicing.

Using the Stride-generated assessment data, Bonds (Curriculum Facilitator) helped differentiate instruction by creating student support intervention groups and an innovative classroom rotation schedule for sixth grade teachers. For example, if only some of the class has mastered long division, Bonds would have students struggling with it rotate into the class where the teacher would focus on the concept.

Bonds also mentioned that the printable lessons and activities available in Stride furnish teachers with content they can send along with the transient students to practice while they are away from school or as they begin the transition to a new school.

Staying on Target with State Requirements
Lisa Wills, Executive Director for Curriculum & Instruction at ECISD, says teachers love using Stride because it’s very user-friendly and they enjoy seeing their students’ growth. “Because Stride is aligned with state standards, teachers feel their students are working on target for what the state requires. It meets the student at their own individual skill level, not the class’ average skill level, and then helps fill in any learning gaps.”

According to Wills, although ECISD first utilized Stride with Tier 2 intervention students, they also use it for special education students in the high school. “We might have a tenth grader who is reading at a fifth grade level. Stride is able to bring those kids up, and we’ve seen some major growth in that group.”

For the students, the icing on the cake is that Stride rewards learning and mastery with “coins” they can redeem for playing engaging games. ECISD has successfully implemented a supplemental, rewards-based learning program to help close the achievement gap for a wide range of students, including transient, special education, and a large population of English Language Learners.

To learn more about Stride, click here.

Click here to download the What We Can Learn from Ector County ISD Toolkit.

1Source: Wikipedia




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