Austin ISD sees small increases in graduates, college readiness

Education Progress Reports show 2016 STAAR benchmarks pose district achievement challenge

While Austin ISD has seen slight year-on-year increases in key benchmarks such as graduation rates, post-secondary enrollment, and college and career readiness, progress during the past five years has been relatively flat, a recent report shows.

The Greater 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 it has partnered with school districts and other Central Texas chambers for the past eight years to compile student performance data relevant to the business community.

"This is the cohort 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 businesses and companies considering relocating to Austin, she said, and the reports can be used to gauge the health of a district.

Graduation rates

In AISD, 80 percent of students graduated within four years in the 2010–11 school year, the most recent year for which data was included, compared with 79 percent in 2009–10. AISD's graduation rate goal for 2011–12 is 93 percent. District officials said to bridge the gap, AISD will emphasize professional development.

Vincent Torres, AISD board of trustees president, said the district has also focused on attendance and offering more activities including athletics and fine arts.

"Those are things that we're doing to try to get kids to stay in school first, because if they're not in school, they're not going to learn, and if they're not learning, they're not going to graduate," he said. "For us, you've got to move further back in the pipeline to be able to solve the graduation problem."

African-American, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students saw slight graduation rate improvements during the past five years. To target English language learners, or ELL, the district offered teachers more professional development, Chief Academic Officer Pauline Dow and Chief Schools Officer Paul Cruz said.

College and career statistics

There was a 2 percent increase from 2009–10 to 2010–11 in AISD's direct-to-college enrollment rate—the percentage of graduates who enrolled in a university, community college or technical school immediately after high school.

"If you look at every report that we have, the direct-to-college enrollment rate has remained pretty flat for the past few years," Teo Yam said. "We're hoping to move the needle on this particular indicator because this is extremely important."

To accomplish this, the chamber invests in Financial Aid Saturdays at high schools to help students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, she said.

Districts statewide are continuing their transition to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, exams.

2016 STAAR standards give challenge

In 2012, the first year of the STAAR phase-in, 87 percent of AISD high school students taking the exam met the phase-in passing standard for biology, 86 percent passed Algebra I, 80 percent passed reading and 67 percent passed the end-of-course writing exam. However, in 2016, the state is expected to implement rigorous standards for college and career readiness. Using 2016 standards, 40 percent met passing standards for biology, 41 percent passed Algebra I, 53 percent passed reading and 42 percent passed writing. The trend of not meeting 2016 standards was also present in fifth- and eighth-grade levels.

Dow and Cruz said that to improve, the district is using a curriculum framework that promotes critical thinking. AISD also reviews STAAR data regularly to ensure curriculum guides are aligned with state test blueprints and offers lessons and campus-level support for struggling students.

The full reports can be accessed at www.austinchamber.com/edureports.

AISD students' college and career plans

  • 91% Percentage of 3,413 AISD seniors surveyed in the class of 2011–12 who said they plan to continue their education after graduating from high school
  • 54% AISD seniors surveyed in 2011–12 who said they plan to attend a four-year college after graduation
  • 32% AISD seniors surveyed in 2011–12 who said they plan to attend a two-year college after graduation
  • 28% AISD seniors surveyed in 2011–12 who said they plan to work part-time after graduation
  • 60% AISD 2010–11 graduates enrolled in a university, community college or technical school immediately after high school (up 2 percent compared with prior year)
  • 1,000 Trained volunteer math and reading classroom coaches placed in AISD schools in 2011–12 by Austin Partners in Education

Academically prepared:

Percentage of a school district's graduating class deemed college- and career-ready based on state performance measures

Students considered academically prepared in 2011–12

  • 62% Students prepared in English Language Arts (compared with 65% in prior year)
  • 69% Students prepared in math (compared with 65% in prior year)
  • 53% Students prepared in both subjects (compared with 53% in prior year)

Source: Austin Chamber of Commerce