Taxpayers in Nacogdoches ISD could see a slighter lower tax bill after trustees approved a new, lower tax rate Thursday.

The Board of Trustees approved a total rate of $1.2663 per $100 in value, which is 3 cents lower per $100 in value. That includes $1.0213 for maintenance and operations and 24.5 cents per $100 dedicated to service the district’s bond debt.

In June, NISD was moving forward with its plan to keep the same rate for the coming year, but later moved to lower the rate in accordance with recommendations from the Texas Education Agency. NISD consults TEA for help in setting the rate to protect the district from sudden revenue shortfalls if the state determines property values in the district have grown too sharply.

A tax notice published in June listed the average value of homes in the district at $122,610. A taxpayer owning a home at that average value would have been billed $1,594 last year by the district, before any deductions like a homestead exemption were applied. This year’s lower rate reduces the district’s portion of the tax bill for an “average” home by about $41.39.

Test scores show Nac on impressive trend before COVID

Trustees also heard a report from Dr. Daya Hill that showed trends in results from test data over the last several years – and showed what a huge impact COVID-19 had on student achievement, especially at early grade levels.

NISD staff, especially principals, deserve a lot of kudos for how well they handled the unprecedented challenges last year, Hill said.

Many teachers had to plan and teach in both learning environments, remote and in-person.

In some cases, principals had to take over classes in the first peak of the pandemic when high staff absences and few substitutes available made it difficult to staff classrooms. Hill points out that student absences were very high before we even knew what COVID-19 was. “You could see that something was amiss,” Hill said.

The district tracked COVID-related absences, as distinguished from other personal illnesses, and saw extremely high staff absences due to the virus.

Nacogdoches and Malcolm Rector Technical high schools had 964 teacher absences for the spring 2021 semester. The prior spring there were 490.

Reading Diagnostics

The district is moving from the CIRCLE and TX KEA to mClass for Kindergarten, first and second grade classes.

CIRCLE benchmark data shows tremendous increases in the skills needed to begin reading, such as recognizing letters and syllables. Tracking those results each year since 2017 showed that PreK students were showing large gains in the percentage of students who could meet standards in letter-naming, rhyming, syllabication and alliteration. By 2019, each of those skills were mastered by 60 to 80 percent of students. Last year, those skill mastery levels dropped by more than 10 percent in each skill area. There’s no data for 2020 because most standardized tests were not given while schools were closed because of the pandemic.

The test results help administrators detect which specific skills need to be addressed for each student. Scores showed that second graders lost reading fluency at the end of the year.

The decline was more pronounced in Math STAAR results for third through fifth grade math, Hill said. Before the pandemic fifth grade math scores showed 80 percent or more of the students mastered content to meet the state standards. The 2021 results showed only 56 percent of fifth graders met standards, and only 39 percent of fourth graders met the standard.

Hill said the data shows older students fared better with distance learning.

The Daily Sentinel will have a deeper analysis of academic performance across the district in an upcoming edition.

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