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Remaining True to Fundamentals is Key to Expanding the Dallas School District's ACE Program

If the Dallas school district remains true to ACE’s fundamentals, new state funds could be a boon for students in schools where the mastery of key subjects like reading and math remains elusive.

Article by William McKenzie February 13, 2020 //   3 minute read

The Dallas Morning News reports that the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) will receive enough state funding to expand the district’s Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) initiative to more under-performing campuses. In fact, the Morning News reports the state allotment will allow DISD to double this program. If the district uses the funds to remain true to ACE’s fundamentals, this could be a boon for students in schools where the mastery of key subjects like reading and math remains elusive.

My colleague Anne Wicks and I wrote a series of essays last year on the ACE program and its use of data in a real-time way to drive student growth. A key takeaway from Data In The Moment, which we published in concert with The 74, is that ACE’s teachers consistently use data from state exams, district tests, and classroom quizzes and observations to assess student progress and drive necessary interventions.

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Another crucial element is identifying high-performing teachers and offering them a stipend to teach in an ACE school. The Dallas district relies upon its multi-measure teacher evaluation and merit-pay plan, known as the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI), to identify such educators. “You can’t have ACE without TEI, or a similar system that differentiates excellent teachers,” Dallas school trustee Edwin Flores told us. “You don’t know who to put in front of kids.” (The state allotment also will help the district sustain the Teacher Excellence Initiative.)

The big challenge will be ensuring an expanded ACE initiative remains true to the core principles that have led to student improvement in most of the program’s schools. In the 2018-19 school year, six of Dallas’s 11 ACE campuses earned a B from the agency, while TEA awarded one campus an A. Only one school earned below a C, and that was Elisha Pease Elementary School, which received a D.

Success requires holding fast to the two interdependent elements of ACE: first, the quality evaluation system that identifies high performing teachers and second, maintaining the supports that help those teachers successfully accelerate student learning on ACE campuses. As we wrote last year: “Despite the success to date, this dual approach of using data and strong educator talent to improve student achievement will only work if the districts can hold firm with fidelity.”

 If the district does hold firm with fidelity, which we certainly hope it does, the chances will increase that students in ACE schools will receive a year of learning for a year of classroom work.

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