Amid drop, SISD makes college, career readiness push

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Sherman ISD officials are looking to increase the district's career readiness scores amid a recent drop and statewide changes in the criteria for readiness.

Only 34 percent of the previous graduating class in the Sherman Independent School District met the state criteria for college and career readiness in 2020-2021 — down from the nearly 72 percent who reached this goal in 2018-2019. However, district officials hope to reverse this decline through opportunities to earn college credit and industry certificates that will give students an advantage once they leave high school. 

The recent discussion also coincides with recent efforts by SISD to reverse other performance drops seen during the ongoing pandemic. This includes drops in the district's STAAR test results.

"Again, I need to remind you that this is a full year of COVID, difficulties of doing certifications and testing remotely, and the removal of military enlistment and counting  CTE sequencing courses," said Tamy Smalskas, SISD assistant superintendent of student support and engagement.

"However, despite these hurdles we are back to normal and feeling good about our current seniors, or grad class of 2022," she continued.

Officials with Sherman ISD announced Thursday that four campuses will transition to distance learning for the remainder of November starting on Monday.

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A student can earn points toward the district's College Career Military Readiness score through a variety of ways that cover both students who will go on to college and those set to enter into the workforce upon graduation. Points can be earned for college readiness by meeting score requirements on the Texas Success Initiative college entrance exam, earning dual-course credit, scoring a three or higher on an advanced placement test or earning an associates degree.

Career readiness points can be gained by students who acquire an industry-based certification, graduate as workforce ready under a degree plan or earn certain other educational certificates during the student careers.

"Not only is our goal to prepare or students to be successful in a diverse, complex world, but it has also been a goal of ours to ensure that every student is able to maximize their academic achievements," Smalskas said. "We can achieve this by strategically preparing each student for a pathway to college or a pathway to a career."

In 2019, Sherman High School saw 71.6 percent of students meet CCMR requirements, but this dropped to 50 percent for the 2019-2020 class. Smalskas attributed the drop in part to the start of the pandemic, which resulted in many difficulties getting students certified and other testing efforts. By comparison, Denison High School saw a 53 percent CCMR rate during the same period.

"It was during our second semester that students that many students take the INC certification tests, additional SAT, ACT, and TSI testing and college bridge programming," she said.

Smalskas said another factor that contributed to the drop is changes in how CCMR is calculated. Under previous criteria, military readiness was a part of the equation, but this has since been removed. The state is currently working with the U.S. Department of Defense on what the future inclusion of military readiness will look like.

The latest criteria also eliminated career and technical education sequence courses from consideration into career readiness. In total, these two previous criteria historically counted for about 16 to 20 percent on a district's performance.

New CCMR and Dual-Credit Coordinator Kristy Dozier said there are many programs in place that will help the district in increasing these scores. These efforts primarily start in middle school with career education and tours of area industries.

"Counsellors meet with every eighth grader to develop their four-year college plan and they will continue to have these one-on-one meetings yearly with students through their senior year of high school," Dozier said.

 Among these programs is the Bearcat Collegiate Program, which assists students in acquiring their associate's degree. The first cohort of this program includes 15 students, of which two are ahead of schedule in acquiring their two-year degree.

"This means that the student will earn 60 college-credit hours that are transferable to a public college or university in the state of Texas," Dozier said.

Dozier said Sherman High School has also seen an increase in the number of industry-based certifications earned by students. While 55 certifications were earned in the 2019-2020 school year, 221 were earned last year. There have been some discussions about moving up the schedule for some of the earlier certifications into the sophomore or freshman years to free up time during the junior and senior years.

Despite the recent drops in scores, district officials said the scores for the 2021-2022 class look more promising. Currently about 34 percent of students have already met requirements and there is an additional semester for the remainder of the graduating class to catch up. Current estimates by the district call for about 69 percent of the class to meet this benchmark.

Members of Sherman High School's class of 2020 sit at Bearcat Stadium during the first of four graduation ceremonies planned for this weekend