Austin Chamber of Commerce offers snapshot of students’ performance

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Annual study marks districts’ areas of need and improvement

The Austin Chamber of Commerce released its 2012 Education Progress Reports in April, providing business owners, educators and parents with a snapshot of what is happening in local school districts.

Kwee Lan Teo Yam, vice president of education and talent alignment for the chamber, said that for the past eight years, the chamber has partnered with school districts and other Central Texas chambers to compile reports of student performance data relevant to the business community.

“This is the [group of students]that’s entering the workforce or is already in the workforce,” Teo Yam said. “This is what your businesses and your community can get to hire. Is it a community of students that have generally pursued some form of post-secondary education? How many graduate within four years? And if you hire them, are they going to need remedial math [refresher classes]?”

Questions such as these matter to local businesses as well as to companies considering relocating to the Austin area, she said, and the reports can be used to gauge the health of a district.

Emily Grobe, Hutto ISD public information officer, said the report has already helped connect businesses and schools in the area and will help the district continue to encourage community involvement.

“This report is an excellent tool to show the results of some of the tough, bold decisions Hutto ISD has made in recent years,” Grobe said. “It speaks to the strong partnerships within our community, and [the report’s]creation allows us to showcase the steady progress and success we are making. [The district] will continue to use future reports not only to share our district’s improvement with the community and local business leadership, but also to spur improved community involvement.”

The reports cover 11 school districts using data from the 2011–12 school year.

In addition to providing graduation rates, the reports examine the percentage of a school district’s graduating class that is deemed college- and career-ready in math and language arts, a classification that is based on state performance measures.

The reports provide direct-to-college enrollment rates—the percentage of graduates who went on to enroll in a university, community college or technical school immediately after high school.

“I was very pleased with the report overall, especially with the high college enrollment rate of 71 percent and the narrowing of the gap in state test results,” Round Rock ISD Superintendent Jess Chvez said. “But [the college enrollment rate]can always be improved—that includes students enrolling in technical and trade schools, not just four-year college programs.”

The chamber has invested in Financial Aid Saturdays, partnering with school districts to encourage students and their families to apply for financial aid and post-secondary education enrollment in Central Texas, Teo Yam said.

Teo Yam said this year’s reports are unique because districts statewide are continuing their transition to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STARR; exams. The reports include information on how fifth- and eighth-graders performed in reading, math and science on the statewide assessments.

“We will be reviewing the Progress Report Task Force recommendations and incorporating similar wording when we revise our district improvement plan for 2013–14,” said Kathy Hickok, Pflugerville ISD director of accountability and assessment. The areas identified in the progress report are areas already being addressed by our district, so incorporating the recommendations are a natural fit.”

Also new this year, the reports include data on students’ post-graduation activities. Partnering with the Ray Marshall Center at The University of Texas, the chamber has been tracking students using employment records and wage records for four years after graduation, she said.

“There is this interdependency,” Teo Yam said. “The business community needs the talent that the district generates, and the district needs the business community to help support [it]as well.”

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Kelli joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter and has been covering Southwest Austin news since July 2012. She was promoted to editor of the Southwest Austin edition in April 2015. In addition to covering local businesses, neighborhood development, events, transportation and education, she is also the beat reporter covering the Travis County Commissioners Court.
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