'Nation's Report Card' gives Austin ISD students high marks

In Austin ISD, fourth- and eighth-grade students performed well compared with students in other large cities throughout the U.S., according to National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, results Superintendent Meria Carstarphen announced Dec. 18.

"AISD students continue to outperform our peers in large urban school districts across the country, ranking among the top in math and reading, and we're most pleased that our economically disadvantaged students and our English-language learners outperformed their peers both nationally and [in] large cities for the first time," Carstarphen said at a news conference.

NAEP, also known as The Nation's Report Card, is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what U.S. students know and can do in various subjects, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Since 2005, AISD has participated in NAEP's Trial Urban District Assessment, and in 2013, representative samples of students from a total of 21 school districts in the U.S. participated in the assessment of fourth- and eighth-grade students in reading and math.

For AISD schools in 2013, NAEP results included:

  • The average math score of fourth-grade students in Austin was 245, compared with an average score of 235 for public school students in large cities.
  • AISD students ranked second compared with other districts in fourth-grade math and third in eighth-grade math in terms of the percentage of students scoring at proficient or advanced levels.
  • AISD students in all groups outscored their peers in large cities on the eighth grade math test.
  • In reading, students ranked third in both fourth and eighth grade compared with other large urban districts.
  • The average math score for fourth-grade AISD students in 2013 was 245, remaining unchanged compared with 2011 and up slightly compared with an average score of 242 in 2005. Similarly, fourth graders' average score on the reading test in 2013 was 221, compared with 224 in 2011, but was higher than the average score of 217 in 2005.
  • English-language learners outscored their peers in both the nation and large cities on the eighth and fourth grade reading assessments for the first time.

Carstarphen said about 30 percent of Austin ISD's student population consists of English-language learners. She added that until this year, some students were excluded because of limited English proficiency, as NAEP is only available in English. In 2013, AISD decreased exclusions for certain student groups; for example, the number of fourth-graders who were excluded from the reading assessment in previous years because of limited English proficiency and disabilities decreased from 20 percent in 2005 to 4 percent in 2013, Carstarphen said.

"Language learners is bigger than Spanish," she added. "And what that means for us is that the diversity of our district is not only being recognized, but we're investing in the rich experience that students bring from home into the district and into our community."

Ken Zarifis, president of local union Education Austin, said the positive results are a win for the 3,000 teachers and classified employees Education Austin represents in the district. He added one benefit of NAEP is that the test is not punitive, compared with other high-stakes state tests for which low scores could mean major consequences.

"We clearly understand that one measure of teachers and kids is how they do on tests, but we also understand that understanding student success and understanding teacher success is multifaceted, and it reaches far beyond any one test," he said. "And if we just hunker down and look at the numbers on the test, we make a fatal mistake in understanding the quality and the power of education."

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce sees this latest student performance data as a competitive edge for business growth, according to chamber Education Chair Don Kendrick.

"In 2013 alone, 47 companies have announced plans to relocate to Central Texas, adding thousands of good-paying jobs," he said. "The Chamber knows that our talent today is a result of hard work and preparation ... in higher education and at all levels of K–12. Today's report shows that the Austin ISD continues to be first or second in many categories among our nation's urban school districts in elementary and middle school reading and math."

How Texas schools fared

In Texas public schools, average NAEP math scores were higher than the national average, according to Michael Williams, commissioner of education with the Texas Education Agency.

Texas eighth graders' reading score increased from 2011 but was still below the national average, and fourth graders' average score was below the national score and ranked 41st nationally.

"As a state, improving student performance in reading and writing across all grades must be a primary focus," Williams said in a news release. "Providing these essential skills prepares every young Texan for ultimate success in the classroom and in life. We must do a better job."

NAEP is a congressionally mandated project administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, located within the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. The 2013 results for each state are available at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.