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Chamber education report looks at progress in Austin

Monday, June 29, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce took at look at the Austin Independent School District for its annual progress report, and said the district is closing the achievement gap; increasing college readiness; and, overall, improving student achievement.

At last week’s chamber luncheon, a panel of school district leaders, business leaders and one legislator, Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin), addressed the subject of student achievement. Strama noted that he graduated right when the report “A Nation at Risk” was published, which noted that the current graduates were, basically, the dumbest kids who had ever gone through the nation’s educational system. A decade later, those same “dumb kids” were teaching their elders about the new digital economy. Not everything that is important can be measured by a standardized test, Strama said.

The state’s new accountability bill is a good starting point to deal with some of the stress of the current high-stakes testing environment. Strama also noted, however, that his constituents often talked about how the current tests force teachers to cater too much to struggling students, while ignoring the kids at the top. “We need to be putting more energy into our system so that we’re also investing in those high-performing kids,” Strama said.

The chamber’s progress report presents a five-year snapshot for the nine biggest school districts in the region, the largest of which is Austin, with an enrollment of 82,000 students. Looking at test scores and graduation rates, Education and Workforce Development Chair Gene Austin of Convio and David Reiter of Luminex noted a number of highlights in the report:

·       Overall, all nine districts participating in the annual progress report have made gains across subject area and grade. Austin-area students have continued to pass the exit-level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, even as the standards have been raised. Still, the regional graduation rate has declined, from 90 percent in 2005 to 83 percent in 2007, which the chamber attributes to the new method of calculating the state dropout rate.

·       The numbers of students deemed “college ready” has risen in recent years. The number, however, is woefully low. For instance, test scores would indicate that only 62 percent of Round Rock students and 43 percent of Austin students were considered ready for college-level coursework in English and math at the time of graduation.

·       The number of students going directly to college has risen in outlying districts, while it has remained somewhat steady in the Austin school district. For instance, the enrollment of graduates from San Marcos CISD into a two- or four-year college upon high school graduation has risen from 34 percent for the Class of 2006 to 42 percent for the Class of 2008. In Austin, the rate of college enrollment, upon high school graduation, was 63 percent.

·       Scores also were up significantly on the eighth-grade math and reading tests. The chamber attributes the rise to the fact that, for the first time, students had to pass the tests to advance to ninth grade. The biggest gains in scores were among students who depended on the scores to advance a grade. 

You can read the rest of the report here: http://www.austin-chamber.org/TheChamber/AboutTheChamber/education.html#table2

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