How a Small School District in Texas is Transforming Instruction for the Students Who Need it Most

During the 2015–16 school year, the educators at Sheldon ISD in northeast Harris County, Texas, faced some important decisions on how they should approach the next school year. The district was in stage four of a state audit and one of the most critical issue facing the district was the performance of their ELL students and students with disabilities. Essentially, they weren’t seeing typical year-to-year growth from these groups of learners. Additionally, the general education population was underperforming on account of the limitations teachers had with the resources they were using. Teachers communicated they didn’t have the time to curate or prepare the materials they needed to meet the needs of their diverse student population.

Susan Pansmith at Goalbook Headquarters working with Goalbook Design Facilitators to address instructional challenges within the Special Education Department.

In an effort to tackle these urgent challenges, Sheldon ISD decided to partner with Goalbook. Sheldon had their work cut out for them, and the task required more than simply asking teachers to work harder, or providing them with more curriculum. They wanted to focus on shaping the mindsets and practice of all the educators at their schools. The solution they landed on was to implement a district-wide initiative to adopt the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in every classroom.

Susan Pansmith, Executive Director of Special Education, and Patsy Cavazos, Chief Academic Officer, led the implementation of Goalbook. Susan was previously part of Houston ISD’s successful district-wide Goalbook implementation, so she was confident that the partnership would yield positive teacher and student outcomes. Susan and Patsy worked closely with the Goalbook team to put together a tailored implementation and PD plan for Sheldon.

Sheldon ISD Teachers engaging in professional development around UDL strategies.
“As a rapidly growing district committed to personalized instruction for ALL students, teaming with Goalbook has provided Sheldon with a phenomenal resource that allows teachers to create lessons that are accessible to all student groups.” 
Susan Pansmith, Executive Director of Special Education, Sheldon ISD

The Goalbook team focused on leading professional development around UDL and showed teachers how to access resources to aid in their adoption of UDL principles. The UDL framework assumes that all learners have strengths and barriers that impact their learning. Using that idea as a guiding principle, the leadership at Sheldon ISD knew they would need resources that allowed all students to access standard-based content by leveraging their strengths and planning for barriers. This intense focus on differentiation became the cornerstone of the plan to address the needs of the student populations that were underperforming.

In a single academic year, Susan reported there was a noticeable improvement in their special education and ELL populations. Specifically, special education students in grades five and eight made marked gains. She stated that, as compared to recent years, these students made improvements on the state tests.

The ELL population is also showing gains that are atypical of what they are used to seeing. She went on to say,

“The scores still aren’t where they need to be, but the growth we saw was mind boggling!”

Two campuses within the district that were designated IR (improvement required) by the state were moved out of that status and remain free of the IR designation. Susan has attributed these positive results in large part due to their partnership with Goalbook.

In a single academic year, Susan reported there were noticeable academic gains in their special education and ELL populations. Susan has attributed these positive results in large part to their partnership with Goalbook.

“With over 19,000 downloads in a small district, it’s apparent our staff is appreciative of all the resources and materials Goalbook brought to the table.”
Susan Pansmith
Goalbook offers instructional resources for core subjects and research-based strategies to help teacher practice.

The growth at Sheldon ISD is steady as implementation continues. As teachers become more familiar with Goalbook and UDL practices, they are hopeful that their instruction will continue to positively impact students. Teachers are reporting that they no longer have to hunt for “the right” resource to give to their students. Goalbook Pathways’ resource and strategy wizards are taking the guesswork out of that process and helping teachers integrate research based instructional practices into their classrooms.

Upon receiving his school’s state test results, one of Sheldon ISDs principals, reported to Susan that the difference he has seen before and after Goalbook “has been night and day.” He believes that the quality of instruction that he sees on his campus is directly connected to the implementation of UDL and Goalbook Pathways.


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