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How a Texas High School Took a Holistic Approach to Boost Student Achievement

How a Texas High School Took a Holistic Approach to Boost Student Achievement

There is no silver bullet for improving student achievement; instead, progress often comes through focused initiatives that impact a variety of aspects of a school’s or district’s educational program. At Onalaska Independent School District (ISD) in Onalaska, Texas, educators took a holistic approach that went beyond the classroom in order to help its students grow, and the results have been exceptional.

Commitment to Data

One of the keys to success at Onalaska Junior Senior High School (JSHS) is the educators' commitment to using data to inform everything they do. Data reports are a way of life for Onalaska educators. In fact, the school has a dedicated space, known as the “war room,” where the walls are covered with student data. Teachers update the data walls with nine-week test grades, state assessment results, and mock test results. To help understand how special populations are performing, socioeconomic and special education details are noted as well.

With the data available in this way, teachers not only see how students are performing in their own classes, but they also get a holistic picture of how each student is performing across the board.

“Sometimes these kids just need a little extra push, so we're able to use that war room as a way to communicate struggles and achievements of our students for all teachers who may have that student,” explained Jessica Caso, school counselor.


In January of 2019, Onalaska JSHS began an adopt-a-student program. The administrative team built a list of students it was concerned about based on their grades and then added any students who the team felt might be struggling socially or emotionally. Then, teachers were able to choose one or two of the students who they had a relationship with to adopt. Teachers checked in with their adopted students weekly to offer support and encourage them to complete any missing assignments. Mentor teachers also met with the classroom teachers of their adoptees to brainstorm ways that they could help the student.

“The teachers really started working closer with individual students and started working with other teachers to help students be more successful,” said Robyn Thornton, JSHS principal.

“[Students] would start coming to us and telling us, ‘Hey I’m just letting you know I got this done. This is where I’m at,’” said Mrs. Caso. “So, it was them also holding themselves accountable because we were holding them accountable.”

Because of the school’s small size, the program didn’t require an extensive amount of coordination or logistics; teachers just made time to have quick meetings with students at lunch, during planning time, or even during the five-minute passing periods. And, just a few weeks into the adopt-a-student program, Onalaska JSHS educators started seeing improvement from the students who were participating.

“Around Christmastime, our failure list at progress report time was like nine pages. And then we came back from Christmas, and we started doing our meetings with our adoptees, and we started noticing that our failure list at the three weeks [mark] started going down by whole pages,” explained Mrs. Caso. “So, we were seeing students who were trying.”

Students weren’t the only ones who benefited from the mentoring program; teachers loved it as well.

“One hundred percent of the teachers said, ‘We love the adoption program, do not change it,’” reported Mrs. Thornton. “The only thing they wanted to tweak was that they wanted to make sure that it started at the beginning of the [school] year.”

Targeted Intervention

Educators know that when students are struggling academically, timely and targeted intervention can help address knowledge gaps and keep students from falling further behind. With short, subject-specific class periods, it can be difficult to find time to provide middle and high school students with the intervention support  they need. To make sure that there was time for intervention, educators at Onalaska JSHS built a class period into the schedule specifically for that purpose.

All students in 7th, 8th, or 9th grade who were not proficient in math or reading based on the prior year’s state assessment results, class grades, or other indicators were required to attend a response to intervention (RTI) class. In the RTI class, students worked with the RTI teacher in a small group and used Exact Path, Edmentum’s intervention and personalized learning program. The RTI teacher used the results from Exact Path’s adaptive diagnostic assessment and each student’s learning path to inform  one-on-one and small-group instruction. With this approach, students experienced phenomenal growth.

“On average, our students grew by two grade levels using Exact Path in [the RTI teacher’s] classroom,” said Mrs. Thornton. “It was amazing.”

Parent Involvement

When the implementation of Study Island, Edmentum’s practice, formative assessment, and test preparation program, was launched to help students master the standards and prepare for the Texas state test, the STAAR, educators made sure that parents were on board as well. Onalaska JSHS hosted a parent night called “Pizza, Parents, and Passing the STAAR” to introduce parents to the program. Teachers shared the benefits of using Study Island, showed what students would be working on, and demonstrated how to log in to students’ accounts to view their progress. The parent night jump-started the program and encouraged students to get additional practice at home.

”This year, we're going to do it [parent night] earlier in the school year so that our teachers and our parents and our students can all be on the same page and work together collaboratively to reach these goals and keep track of where each of their students are,” said Mrs. Caso.

The systematic approach that the educators at Onalaska JSHS have taken and the hard work that they put in has already paid off; the school has seen outstanding improvement on its students’ state assessment scores between spring 2018 and spring 2019.

“I get so excited about this part because our kids really just did a great job, our teachers did a great job, and we're just very proud of them,” said Mrs. Caso.

Want to learn more about how Onalaska ISD uses Edmentum Courseware, Exact Path, and Study Island to boost student achievement? Check out the full success story.