Six Austin ISD schools in Central Austin received an F grade from the Texas Education Agency on Aug. 15, despite the district’s overall B grade.
The schools are Andrews Elementary School, Burnet Middle School, Martin Middle School, Mendez Middle School, Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy and Webb Middle School.
Officials attributed the low grades, in part, to high mobility into and out of the district, while also emphasizing AISD’s commitment to social and emotional development, fine arts education and other programs that are not considered in the grading process.
“I don’t think any of us are opposed to an accountability system,” said Debra Ready, AISD’s executive director of accountability and assessment. “The unfortunate piece of the system is it doesn’t really do very much to tell us how to improve, nor does it paint a full picture of what goes on in our schools day to day.”
In the last five years, AISD has seen its enrollment drop by roughly 5,000 students and expects to lose more than 7,000 in the next decade, according to demographic reports.
District officials have attributed this, in part, to the displacement of families from the urban core as housing prices continue to climb.
“Much of that is out of our control,” Ready said. “It has to do with affordability in the Austin area, and our district mobility tracks along with that of the city as a whole.”
Middle schools in the district struggled to meet state standards. Half—nine out of 18—received D or F grades.
The district is already working to improve its middle schools, said Michelle Cavazos, AISD’s chief officer for academics and social emotional learning. She cited ongoing programs to provide professional development opportunities to staff; expand one-to-one technology, or a computer for each student; and extend the instructional time in math and language arts while not cutting electives.
Additionally, officials said elementary and middle schools are graded according to a model almost entirely reliant upon State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, results.
“We will continue to emphasize the things that we do for students that are beyond the STAAR,” said Lisa Goodnow, AISD’s associate superintendent of academics and social and emotional learning.
Many of the schools that received F grades are dealing with additional factors, such as a high portion of students who are economically disadvantaged or English learners.
Looking at AISD as a whole, 53.4% of students were economically disadvantaged in 2018, according to the TEA. At all six of the Central Austin schools that received an F grade this year, more than 90% of students were economically disadvantaged.
Similarly, 27.5% of AISD students are English learners, per the TEA. The schools that received F grades ranged from 36% English learners at Martin Middle to 75.9% at Andrews Elementary.
“We know that students in poverty face unique academic challenges,” Ready said.
Goodnow added students who are learning two languages may take longer to demonstrate mastery in one.
“Everybody starts in a different place, and we capitalize on their strengths and meet them where they are,” Ready said.
Now that the results have been published, the district is focused on communicating to parents what they mean and how they are calculated.
“As parents ourselves, any kind of letter grade like that would be concerning,” Goodnow said.