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AISD greenlights new scorecard

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 by Courtney Griffin

At Monday’s regular board meeting, Austin Independent School District trustees unanimously approved the new district scorecard, a steering document that will be used to evaluate Superintendent Paul Cruz’s performance in the future. The scorecard uses new initiatives to promote the desegregation of AISD schools, create data-driven metrics and improve the quality of teaching at failing schools.

According to the trustees, the scorecard will help map what success will look like for campuses, the district and the superintendent at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 school year. Although the district has been using a scorecard for a number of years, this style of scorecard started with the district’s 2015-2020 strategic plan.

Since February, trustees have been sitting down with AISD staff as well as A.J. Crabill, director of governance for the Texas Education Agency, and Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, to discuss the best ways to use data to measure and implement initiatives for AISD’s scorecard.

However, a consensus wasn’t reached on the dais until the last minute on Monday.

At-Large Trustee Gina Hinojosa took issue with the scorecard’s use of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) postsecondary readiness measure instead of the more usual passing rate standard.

Staff said the main difference between the two is that the passing rate standard usually changes from year to year as harder academic initiatives are phased in, while the postsecondary standard remains stable because it’s the “ultimate” passing rate goal for the STAAR test.

Previously, Crabill and others have recommended using the stable standard because it makes it easier to see the progress students are making even if they have failed the exam.

Nevertheless, Hinojosa put forward an amended motion to substitute the passing standard for the postsecondary readiness standard, which later failed. Hinojosa explained that she and parents are worried that the seemingly higher, more unified measure would encourage more “teaching to the test” and that the district might use it in a punitive fashion.

Board Vice President Paul Saldaña also pointed out that AISD is headed toward zero-based budgeting, under which all financial decisions must, and could, be justified using the higher postsecondary metrics.

However, District 3 Trustee Ann Teich and District 1 Trustee Edmund Gordon disagreed with Hinojosa, concurring that the tests were flawed but acknowledging the merits of data that are comparable across districts and states.

“Most of our schools meet these standards, but I would hope at the highest levels of our district that we don’t punish our kids when they don’t reach a certain level,” said Teich.

AISD’s new scorecard also lays out more equity initiatives than previous scorecards have.

The new scorecard will require Cruz to “develop a plan for socioeconomic desegregation of schools, beginning with District 1” in the 2016-2017 school year. This measure, notably, could in the future bring forth specific suggestions regarding school boundaries, transfer policies, transportation options or programming options that have been proposed in the past.

However, trustees have already seen some pushback from the community regarding desegregation through programming – an initiative that has worked at Blackshear and Becker elementary schools – and the desegregation initiative in general.

Former Trustee Cheryl Bradley, during public comment, said that programs should be put in place “for the kids who are already there” rather than in an attempt to attract other — usually more affluent and white — students. Bradley also questioned the fairness of holding Cruz to a standard over which he may have little control, due to Austin’s rising cost of living.

Trustee Julie Cowan added that she remained skeptical, pointing out the potentially hollow nature of a desegregation “plan.”

“Does a plan mean we are developing a plan and we aren’t going to do any sort of implementation during the next year? Or are we actually going to get to some implementation this year?” Cowan asked, saying that she’d like a plan implemented quickly.

Cruz responded that the directive would be simply about developing a plan.

“We’re just trying to get five votes, Julie,” Hinojosa added.

The new scorecard also includes guidelines for addressing achievement gaps and adjusting the proportions of African-American and Hispanic students in the district’s magnet school, gifted and talented programs, and advanced courses. According to the Texas Education Agency’s most recent Texas Academic Performance Report, Hispanics make up 60 percent of AISD’s student population, whites 26 percent and African-Americans 8 percent. Meanwhile, 60 percent of AISD students are considered economically disadvantaged.

However, students are concentrated by race and socioeconomic status along familiar north-south, east-west lines. This is the case with Eastside Memorial High School and its more southwesterly cousin, Bowie High School. The former has a student population that is 77 percent Hispanic and 89 percent economically disadvantaged; meanwhile, the latter has a student population that is 50 percent white and 14 percent economically disadvantaged.

The scorecard also includes new pilot programs to attempt to reduce the number of ineffective teachers and increase the number of effective principals at struggling schools. Hinojosa asked for this measure to be developed hand-in-hand with Education Austin, AISD’s teachers union.

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