Tuesday, February 9, 2016 by Courtney Griffin

AISD moves ahead with new equity assessment model

It’s been more than a year since the Texas Civil Rights Project sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education to call attention to disparities in the ways the Austin Independent School District educates its students. And despite AISD trustee grumblings about the district’s sluggish progress, board members on Monday directed staff to begin modeling AISD’s equity assessment on a rubric created by the Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization Voices for Racial Justice.

“To me, we need a process, and that’s what the rubric begins,” Board President Kendall Pace told the Austin Monitor. “We can talk about what indicators and what measures, but we really need to know what the framework is. There’s lots of different ways we can frame this question.”

The rubric sets out eight equity goals, which include equity in access to academics and extracurriculars, curriculum standards, school culture, disciplinary practices, financial resources and allocation and student achievement, among others. Once quantitative and qualitative data illustrating these disparities are gathered, the rubric establishes a process for developing and implementing solutions to address the disparities.

If everything goes according to plan, AISD staff will come before board members again next month to provide an update on how AISD’s own assessment model is shaping up. Pace asked staff to place an emphasis on data points related to students’ academic achievements and disciplinary policies and practices, but Superintendent Paul Cruz acknowledged there were many more indicators available to measure.

Although the Texas Civil Rights Project called upon the district to begin a self-assessment in January 2015, Cruz told board members that staff had spent the majority of 2015 gathering data that had amassed into a “big data dump.” He added that they had also gone back and forth between the AISD board and the AISD Board Oversight Committee on Excellence Through Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, a subcommittee that was created to help develop the equity assessment.

Board members established the subcommittee in March, and District 6 Trustee Paul Saldaña presided over the group. However, Saldaña admitted that the committee’s progress had slowed because it had become tied up in other issues, such as school naming and AISD’s policies for historically underutilized businesses. Saldaña added that the committee and staff gathered information on per-pupil spending from school data, economically disadvantaged data, parent/teacher association funding data, demographic data and racial data, just to name a few.

“But they are not necessarily connected,” Cruz added, explaining that the key question was, “How can we make them make sense in some way?”

In addition to tweaking the rubric, Cruz will also present board members with a plan regarding community engagement. Initially, Cruz suggested creating a group of more than 30 staff and community members to review and provide further direction on AISD’s assessment efforts. During the interim, Saldaña will also reassess the role his subcommittee will play in the process.

“I don’t care what it is, as long as we have something going,” said District 1 Trustee Edmund Gordon, who had repeatedly voiced his frustration about how long the process had taken. “The most important thing is that we have a framework in place and we can then begin a self-assessment. In a year’s time we can tear it up and do something else. But we need something.”

Graph from AISD “Equity Report Card” embedded below.

[embeddoc url=”https://www.austinmonitor.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Attachment-5-Equity-Report-Card.pdf”]

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

AISD Board of Trustees: This is the governing board of the Austin Independent School District. The board is comprised of two at-large members and seven district representatives.

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