Austin ISD grapples with helping students catch up amid several pressing problems

Stephanie Elizalde told trustees about a scaffolding learning approach the district is emphasizing Jan. 13. (Screenshot Courtesy Austin ISD)
Stephanie Elizalde told trustees about a scaffolding learning approach the district is emphasizing Jan. 13. (Screenshot Courtesy Austin ISD)

Stephanie Elizalde told trustees about a scaffolding learning approach the district is emphasizing Jan. 13. (Screenshot Courtesy Austin ISD)

Austin ISD is providing new lesson plans for teachers in the face of dropping test scores, Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said at the Board of Trustees’ Jan. 13 information session.

Test scores have been decreasing since the start of the pandemic, Elizalde said.

Some Austin ISD trustees questioned if the new lesson plans address the most immediate needs in the district, which they identified as attendance and teacher shortages.

Reading outcomes for students in low-income families have decreased in particular, based on standardized test scores among third grade students considered economically disadvantaged, Elizalde said.

Between the 2018-2019 school year and the 2020-2021 school year, the state saw an 8 point drop in the percentage of economically disadvantaged third graders’ reading test scores, while Austin ISD saw a 13 point drop in that group, according to the district.


Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said the district is providing teachers with instructional planning guides that lead classrooms through activities and ensure students do the work. For example, instead of a teacher reading a short story out loud, students can each receive a piece of the story and then work as a class to put it together like a puzzle.

Trustee Kristin Ashy asked Elizalde how the lessons play out amid high absenteeism during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“So many of these skills do scaffold upon each other,” Ashy said. “If a child is out and they miss a lesson, they then are expected to scaffold on ... I’m wondering how that works and what that will look like?”

Elizalde said absences “absolutely” will affect learning.

Trustees Arati Singh and Kevin Foster both touched on the issue of many vacancies.

Singh said as the district faces a budget shortfall, it needs to prioritize keeping certified teachers.

Singh said more than 75% of teacher vacancies are in Title 1 schools, designated as such because at least 40% of the student population in those schools come from low-income families.

“To me that’s a must,” Singh said. “If you don’t have a teacher I don’t know how these kids are going to take advantage of all these other wonderful things.”
By Maggie Quinlan

Reporter, Southwest Austin/Dripping Springs

Maggie joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in July 2021 after a year spent covering crime, courts and politics at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, near the border with Idaho. In Southwest Austin and Dripping Springs, Maggie covers education, business, healthcare, transportation, real estate development and nonprofits. Prior to CI, she graduated from Washington State University, where she was managing editor of the student newspaper and a section editor at her hometown newspaper based in Moscow, Idaho. Maggie dreamed of living in the Austin area for years and feels honored to serve the communities of Southwest Austin and Dripping Springs.