Helping to raise awareness about the mismatch between local job openings and student aspirations is one of the goals of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce's annual Education Progress Reports, said Kimberly Reeves, vice president of talent alignment with the chamber.
On April 3 the chamber released its 2013 reports, which include K–12 student performance data from the 2011–12 school year as well 2013 STAAR results and highlight key factors such as graduation rates and college readiness.
As school counselors throughout Central Texas help students transition to new Foundation High School Program graduation plans under House Bill 5, part of the message the chamber wants to convey is what opportunities are available for students, Reeves said.
"We are in one of the fastest-growing communities in the country with a lot of high-demand jobs and a lot of mismatch between the jobs that we have and what kids think they want to do," she said.
The chamber has partnered with school districts and other Central Texas chambers for the past nine years to put together the reports. This year the reports cover 12 school districts in Central Texas including Austin ISD, Hays CISD, Hutto ISD, Leander ISD, Pflugerville ISD, Round Rock ISD and San Marcos CISD.
The reports examine the number of students who say they intend to attend college, how many students applied for financial aid, and the percentage of a school district's graduating class that is deemed college- and career-ready, a classification based on state performance measures.
In LISD, 70 percent of the students in the class of 2012 were considered college- or career-ready in both reading and math, and 52 percent applied for financial aid. Veronica Sopher, LISD senior executive director of community and school relations, said LISD is working to improve its number of students who apply for financial assistance by partnering with local churches to offer financial aid seminars on Sundays.
"We've started several new awareness programs to help parents understand the importance of early applications," she said.
Additionally the reports include direct-to-college enrollment rates—the percentage of high school students who actually went on to enroll in a university, community college or technical school immediately after graduating.
JoyLynn Occhiuzzi, RRISD's executive director of community relations, said the district has seen an increase in its direct-to-college enrollment rate, which was 71 percent for the class of 2012.
"We still want to focus on the 29 percent of students who aren't going directly to college and see how we can help them overcome obstacles to enrollment," she said.
Districts statewide are continuing their transition to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, exams. The reports include information on how fifth- and eighth-graders performed on STAAR exams in math, reading, science and social studies. Fifth-graders are preparing to enter middle school, and eighth-graders are preparing to enter high school.
"All [LISD] fifth- and eighth-graders who do not meet Level II Satisfactory Performance on the first administration of STAAR receive targeted, accelerated instruction ... one-on-one and/or [in a] small group before, during and/or after school," Sopher said. "An individualized plan is developed for each student based upon their areas of strengths and needs."
Overall the reports provide business owners, educators and parents with an overview of what is happening in local school districts, Reeves said.
"We have the highest graduation rates that we have ever had in the region," she said. "Even in the face of budget cuts, [school districts] are doing a good job meeting the standards. Now the standards are going to change and they are probably going to be even more challenging."
The full reports can be accessed at www.austinchamber.com/edureports.
Additional reporting by Emilie Lutostanski and Lyndsey Taylor