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Sutherland for Schools blog

Readers comment on the first SCA

by Ann Sutherland on 09/16/14

I received a copy of the testing schedule today--fifth grade has 48 tests in English and 38 in Spanish--and on some days the teachers have to do BOTH tests.   (I didn't count the other grades.)

Here is the first comment.  Please feel free to add yours.

Reflections on the first SCA:
           What was supposed to be a 30 minute test ended up taking an hour and 
a half.  (This was for the 3rd  grade math test.)

           Because of the reordering of the curriculum, we taught Origo Module  
7 which covers graphing first, our students had not been exposed to many of the 
topics embedded in the test yet this year.  For example,  all ten questions     
required the students to add and subtract two digit numbers.  Although this was 
taught in 2nd grade, there has been no refresher on this in 3rd, because we     
taught the Origo Modules out of order.            

6 out of the 10 questions were “How many more questions.”  This made it a test  
less of graphing and more about subtraction comparison questions which has not  
been reviewed this year and is one of the most difficult concepts for students  
to understand.

About the bond vote on high school athletic facilities

by Ann Sutherland on 09/12/14

There has been some community concern about the FWISD board's vote to change the plans for the high school field house money contained in the bond.  As approved by the voters, the nearly $500 million proposal contained $1 million for each campus to construct a field house of some 5,000 square feet, a total of $14 million.

Most of the rest of the $500 million was based on a needs assessment designed to bring each campus up to a set of designated standards.

However thorougly the needs assessment was conducted, after the community approved the bond, it became clear that requiring every campus to spend the money on a 5,000 square foot field house just didn't make sense.  Northside High School, for example, already has a field house of 9,200 square feet.  In other cases, campuses already had 5,000 square ft. field houses. 

Clearly, we could be better stewards of the public money than to go ahead with the plans as they were approved.

Ultimately it's the board's responsibility to spend money wisely.  We had a choice between leaving the requirement in place and wasting a lot of the $14 million,or removing the requirement, allowing the individual high schools to change the plans to fit their particular needs.  

Voters can justly criticize the board for failing to exercise sufficient oversight over this portion of the bond (although I can tell you that it's pretty hard to avoid any errors of this type in a big project), but once the bond was voted on, I think we did the right thing in ensuring that the money is spent for the most needy purposes.

I hope most readers agree.

District's best kept secret: Exec sessions aren't confidential

by Ann Sutherland on 09/12/14

We all have our suspicions that the district doesn't always tell us all the facts on a given issue.  But even board members who had been in office decades seemingly have been kept in the dark about this one:  generally, our deliberations in executive session are available for public knowledge.

Thanks to a heads-up from a member of the local press, I checked with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas ( this week.  There is no legal prohibition against divulging what goes on behind those pesky closed doors, from what we had for dinner (not worth discussing, by the way), to what property we are considering purchasing.  There is one major exception:  in those cases when an issue is protected legally, as in lawyer/client advising, telling is off limits.

So the next time a reader wants to know about a topic, ask away.

But doesn't it make you wonder why we are paying those lawyers the big bucks to advise us, when they managed to "forget" this little bit of information for decades?

Agenda for special board meeting Monday September 15

by Ann Sutherland on 09/10/14

This meeting is to confer with our superintendent search firm, Ray & Associates, and to make decisions regarding the process of selecting a new superintendent.  Public comment will be available.

Note that the meeting begins at 5 p.m.  The agenda is on the "data" tab.

Answer to question on selling pizza

by Ann Sutherland on 09/09/14

A  reader asked, "How is it that high schools like Paschal, can sell pizza from Mama's pizza at lunch when the federal standards do not allow it? Kids will choose this instead of the cafeteria lunch. Can you please research this and get back to us before we come before the entire board. Thank you."

Mr. Cavazos replied as follows:

Dr. Sutherland thank you for alerting us to this concern – the issue is complex and is changing as we speak – In this particular case the campus did reach out to our food service department prior to the sale of the items to ensure that the items were in compliance.  The nutritional data provided by the campus at the time, was incomplete, but it seems the booster club started the sales prior to final review.  Mr. Glenn Headlee, CNS (child nutrition services) director has already visited with this campus principal and will work with them to correct the problems. 


Changes are coming:

We are reviewing new rules just published on the August 29, 2014 Texas Register (pg 63), effective September 1, 2014 so we can determine how they impact our current operation, particularly at high schools.  The new rules create a “time and place” restriction for high schools– (unless the local policy overrides the state standard).  Prior to this, high schools had to comply with a “place” rule only; middle schools and elementary schools had “time and place” requirements.  The old rules allowed high schools to sell these items as long as it did not occur at the same “place” as the cafeteria meals – primarily the cafeteria.  Below is a brief summary of the issue – please advise if you have questions or concerns.


1.       Texas Department of Agriculture rules and board policy FFA spell out what is acceptable at our schools

2.       CNS in collaboration with school administration monitor campus sales of competitive foods (pizza and others in question)

3.       The CNS department was alerted to the desire to sell this pizza and other items by this campus

4.       Using a calculator (available to the public at and other tools CNS determined that the information provided on the items was incomplete

5.       The campus believing since the pizza is “whole wheat” meant it met standards began selling the pizza

6.       You notified us of this concern

7.       Mr. Headlee has visiting with the campus administration and together they will be addressing the issue

8.       Due to changes in the rules – the district is in the process of either implementing the new state standards or bring forth board policy recommendations (TASB has notified our offices)


I hope this helps… 


Art Cavazos


Agenda and backup material now available

by Ann Sutherland on 09/04/14

The agenda and backup material is now available at the "data" tab.

FWISD to suspend $5.4 million contract with TNTP

by Ann Sutherland on 08/28/14

Some months ago, trustees approved a controversial contract with TNTP to help us locate and train teachers, especially bilingual teachers, and to reorganize our Human Capital Management program.  This contract will now be suspended pending the wishes of our new superintendent.   This change will save $1 million per year.

Here is the rollout for the High School students' laptops

by Ann Sutherland on 08/27/14

The first five pilot schools, (South Hills, Northside, Eastern Hills, Dunbar and Western Hills) will get them 2nd semester, followed by the next five the following semester and the balance 2nd semester next year. 

Thanks to Kyle Davie for this information.


Assessment vs. instruction / I-station access

by Ann Sutherland on 08/24/14

Instruction is what moves students.  Assessment is only useful to drive instruction.  It can only drive instruction if teachers can use the results of the test to modify instruction.  They can't do this every three weeks because they don't have enough time to plan .  I-Station modifies every month.  So data is changed already for teachers; additional CBAs are not needed.

See the latest data on the damage being done by NCLB:

To activate I-station:

Go to  Right side has "support".  Choose Windows or Mac and click "go".  No need to log on.  An icon will appear on the desktop.  Kids (and teachers) still need log-ons to access their particular material.

New PK teachers will "work with" other teachers until supplies arrive

by Ann Sutherland on 08/23/14

Tuesday's agenda carries the money to supply each of the 28 new pre-K classrooms with $15,000 in supplies--but none of them are in the classrooms yet.  Dr. Sorum tells me that Dr. Rangel will be working with other teachers to make sure all classes have adequate supplies.

Apparently the order for the supplies got caught up in a discussion over adding additional pre-K classes.

Agenda and board book for 8-26-2014 meeting

by Ann Sutherland on 08/21/14

Available at on the data tab.  It's a long agenda.

The Citizens Oversight Committee minutes are at the end.

Your laptop may not be ready after all

by Ann Sutherland on 08/20/14

Kyle Davie assured the board on Aug 12 that the laptops and Promethean board would be ready.   He promised a report on Aug 26 of the number that were not available.  

Six days later, all bets are off.  Here is the email from our IT Asst. Supt. 
From: Navarre, Becky 
Sent: Monday, August 18, 2014 7:41 AM
To: Navarre, Becky
Subject: Promethean Laptop Refresh
Importance: High
We have experienced a delay in the processing and delivery of the teacher laptops that are to be used with the Promethean boards.  Additional laptops are being processed but they will not arrive before the start of school.  We know that you collected the laptops with the understanding that they would be replaced over the summer.
We will need to schedule the onsite Promethean laptop Refresh/exchange at your school after the laptops arrive.  I’m very sorry for any issues that this may cause and we will try to make it as convenient as possible to replace the eligible laptops once the additional shipment arrives.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.
Becky Navarre, Ph.D.| Assistant Superintendent
Division of Technology
Fort Worth ISD 
(:: (817) 814-3100 / (817) 814-3105 fax
*:: 3150 McCart Ave., Ste. 16 | Fort Worth, TX | 76110

Are those CBAs illegal under SB5?

by Ann Sutherland on 08/18/14

I mentioned at the last board meeting, in asking that the CBAs be discontinued, that the Legislature enacted language prohibiting more than 2 benchmark tests for any STAAR test.  Here is the language:




"benchmark assessment instrument" means a district-required

assessment instrument designed to prepare students for a

corresponding state-administered assessment instrument.

       (b)  Except as provided by Subsection (c), a school district

may not administer to any student more than two benchmark

assessment instruments to prepare the student for a corresponding

state-administered assessment instrument.

       (c)  The prohibition prescribed by this section does not

apply to the administration of a college preparation assessment

instrument, including the PSAT, the ACT-Plan, the SAT, or the ACT,

an advanced placement test, an international baccalaureate

examination, or an independent classroom examination designed or

adopted and administered by a classroom teacher.

       (d)  A parent of or person standing in parental relation to a

student who has special needs, as determined in accordance with

commissioner rule, may request administration to the student of

additional benchmark assessment instruments.

       (b)  This section applies beginning with the 2013-2014

school year.

According to a memo from Dr. Sorum to me, the purpose of these tests is to prepare students for the STAAR tests.  He writes, "Short cycle assessments are intended to be formative assessments.  Formative assessments "inform" teachers about the effectiveness of the teaching of the TEKS of a particular grade level."  [attachment, email to Ann Sutherland, July 28, 2014]

How our children differ on tests (a digression)

by Ann Sutherland on 08/18/14

This weekend a fine article by Berkeley prof David Kirp was published in the NYTimes.  See 

I have long been concerned about the range of student performance levels within our classes.  Here, a commenter to Kirp's article summarizes the range:

Andrew Biemiller

 Barrie, Canada 43 minutes ago

David Kirp is quite right that teaching is a "complicated and messy human relationships". Treating education as a knowledge factory has long been an inadequate way of preparing children for successful adult lives.
One problem in "education reform" has been a failure to acknowledge the reality that children's educational progress varies a great deal. By 6th grade, old standardized tests of reading and mathematics (e.g., the Iowa Test of Basic Skills) showed that 10% of children are achieving at levels reached by median children in 3rd grade, while another 10% are at levels reached by median children in 9th grade. While the range is smaller for "just advantaged" or "just disadvantaged", it isn't that much smaller.
Many children can ultimately achieve well in school--if we would allow them enough time. We do that for children learning to swim or learning to drive automobiles. It would be nice if we would do the same for reading, writing, and computation.
Andrew Biemiller, former director of an elementary education teacher program

Statement regarding Curriculum Audit work

by Ann Sutherland on 08/16/14

In 2012, the board’s curriculum audit contained a number of findings relating to the management of the district.  The #1 finding was that the board is not adequately directing the educational program.  The first finding was

 1.1:  Board policies are inadequate to direct curriculum management decision making and to establish control over the educational program and related organizational functions.

             Perhaps the board’s most egregious failure has been to control the intrusive practices of management into our classrooms which are widely believed to be the cause of our decline in student performance relative to other districts.  The main problem has been the six-times-yearly administration of “curriculum based assessments” and the numerous workshops required for their implementation and interpretation.  There are no board policies which authorize this massive and expensive testing regimen, and no research showing that our tests yield positive results.  To the contrary, the imposition of these tests and associated curricular requirements have accompanied a DECLINE in our student performance compared to other Texas urban districts.

  While formative assessments are universally accepted as part of the educational curriculum, I am aware of no information showing that requiring specific multiple-choice questions do so.  Moreover, there is no reference in our board policies to these assessments.

             I was reminded of the curriculum audit’s finding this month when I learned, through the “grapevine”, that the district plans to DOUBLE the number of curriculum based assessments in our schools this year, plus requiring MONTHLY tests of a computer program called ISIP in elementary grades.  This change in our operating procedures was never approved either by the Superintendent or by the board—indeed, we were never even told about it, which is the usual way staff manages to weasel around the approval process.

             We need a board policy requiring approval of district-wide testing mandates prior to any more imposition of district-wide tests not required by state law.