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The Texas Success Initiative Assessment is required by the state for all entering college students and gauges their college readiness in reading, writing and mathematics. | Image: Getty Images

Long before another school year started for K-12 students across Texas, a Texas A&M University-led team has been hard at work behind the scenes to position high school students throughout the Lone Star state for future college writing success.

Leading the college-readiness charge is Dr. Terri Pantuso, an instructional associate professor in the Department of English and associate dean for assessment and curricular matters in the College of Arts and Sciences, who recently received a $1.2 million service contract from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) aimed at better preparing high school students for the Texas Success Initiative (TSI).

The TSI is a THECB-administered, legislatively mandated program designed to help “determine whether entering, non-exempt students are ready for entry-level college coursework in the areas of English Language Arts Reading and Mathematics.” Students who do not meet the benchmarks set by the TSI assessment must receive “developmental education academic support as determined by the institution.”

Pantuso and her team are determined to help students statewide to meet those requirements by focusing on first-year writing instruction and delivering additional open educational resources (OER) for the OERTX Repository, a public digital library of OER for higher education.

Pantuso initially worked with the THECB last year through the Digital Design for Student Success (D2S2) project, where she, alongside faculty from myriad disciplines at Texas A&M, Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin, developed introductory college course materials to be virtually deployed as open access courses. This year, Pantuso is serving in a leadership role while also building off her experience with the D2S2 interface. Whereas her first project with D2S2 centered on creating an online English 104 course, Pantuso will be delivering a wide array of digital instructional and learning tools on reading and writing for TSI readiness.

“I knew we needed to go back and build more,” Pantuso said. “I’m glad I get a chance to go back and add more to it. That was me putting out the course that I had designed. This project is more of a community of educators with many years of combined experience. This is not, ‘We’re Texas A&M, and this is how you should do it.’ It should be, ‘We’re Texas A&M, and we’re having a conversation about best practices.’ So, it’s not at all meant to be us telling someone what to do, it’s ‘Hey, we’ve tried this.’”

Pantuso currently leads a team comprised of various professionals and experts, including English department faculty and graduate students, and instructional designers from the College of Arts and Sciences as well as student success coaches, dual credit and community college instructors and district level ELA coordinators. They will all work in unison to further develop reading, writing and intervention strategies based on their own expertise, experience and contributions. For example, English department graduate students are focusing on artificial intelligence options, such as ChatGPT. Although AI software is often paired in conversation with plagiarism, the team is working to further explore the subject as a potential instructional tool benefiting both educators and their students, not only across Texas but also nationwide.  

“How do we use generative AI?” Pantuso asked. “If we’re not going to fight it, what do we do pedagogically to make it work? What kind of best practices do we form around that? It’s been a process of developing curriculum, but also, there’s a think tank that’s formed from this. We’re putting faculty from our English department in conversation with someone teaching a dual credit course in San Antonio. It breaks down that hierarchy and power dynamic because we’re all writing instructors doing the same thing. We’re working with students who might have different skill sets when they come to us, so it’s about creating the best content to uplift all our students.”

The project’s virtual materials include courses, lesson plans, rubrics, assessments, scheduling designs, syllabi suggestions, assignments, textbook recommendations and more. Topics cover basic writing components such as thesis statements, evidence-based research writing, prewriting, essay structure and organization, grammar, editing and revising, to name a few. According to Pantuso, all materials produced from this project align with the learning objectives and standards set by the state in the Academic Course Guide Manual.

This is my 32nd year as a teacher. However, every time I talk to a new teacher, they feel like they’re struggling. I like the communal aspect of how we can help each other. I think being aware that I don’t know it all makes this a much better project. There are different needs for different types of institutions, and it’s important to acknowledge that.

Dr. Terri Pantuso, Texas A&M Department of English

The project also incorporates materials and pedagogical aspects aside from traditional coursework and digital instruction. Individuals from the Texas A&M Academic Success Center will provide intervention strategies and college readiness, such as time management, exam preparation, and note taking, for example. Another feature will be interactive assessments and search tools using H5P. In the future, Pantuso also hopes to include web coders, game developers, technical writing experts and educators from the Rio Grande Valley, among other state regions.

“I’m a believer of making too much stew,” Pantuso said. “I’d rather have leftovers than not enough. There’s a lot I don’t know. This is my 32nd year as a teacher. However, every time I talk to a new teacher, they feel like they’re struggling. I like the communal aspect of how we can help each other. I think being aware that I don’t know it all makes this a much better project. There are different needs for different types of institutions, and it’s important to acknowledge that.”

What the team develops will be published as an OER through OakTrust and the OERTX Repository for instructors, parents and students to use and meet their needs. Pantuso notes that a key element in delivering this project to the public will be the site’s instructional design. Accordingly, members of the team are working with a third-party developer to hone the project’s web presence while other team members focus on keyword tagging and proper attributions.

“If you go to the repository right now, it’s very plain,” Pantuso said. “We have been asked to make it more interactive. I really want better teaching materials out there. We have a shortage of teachers, period, in this state. For years, we’ve had a shortage of qualified dual credit teachers in high schools. I hope this helps folks who find themselves in that position, when they haven’t taught this before, so they can pull from what we’ve created and not feel they have to create materials on their own.”

The project’s main deliverables are contracted to be completed by September 30. Pantuso states the deadline will be met but that her team will continue to develop the project for the next two years in various capacities, including gauging student-facing outreach strategies, adding more interactive features and incorporating user experiences.

“We’re building ways for people to provide feedback, as well as having educators taking lessons through the project’s open pedagogical nature and remixing them to then post them back into the repository,” Pantuso said. “That’s so we can see what somebody uses, how they tweak it and provide reasons for why they tweaked it regarding what worked and what didn’t work. That’s really the goal — that this keeps going as a living document. I want it to keep going.”

Members of Pantuso’s team include English department faculty members Dr. Christopher Manes, Dr. Claire Carly-Miles and Dr. Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; Academic Success Center reading specialist Sharon Haigler and colleagues Tyler Laughlin*, Dr. Morgan Jones* and Dr. Megan McClure*; College of Arts and Sciences Transformational Teaching and Learning team web and instructional designer Shweta Kailani and instructional designer Irene Ai; English graduate students Gwendolyn Inocencio, Anneke Snyder, Mary Perkins, Pujarinee Mitra, Hannah Bowling, Jonahs Kneitly and Joseline Gonzalez-Ajanel; San Antonio Independent School District (ISD) educators Dr. Lenora Perry-Samaniego and Frances Santos; Cypress-Fairbanks ISD teacher Kimberly Stelly; Bryan ISD ELA Coordinator Brandi Morley; and Lonestar College professor Katherine Yoerg.

“It’s not the ‘Terri Pantuso project,’” Pantuso said. “This really is a community project of writing instructors.”


* This link is no longer active and has been removed.