Austin School District Gets Math Scores, Reading Has Held Steady During Pandemic

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Despite troubling nationwide declines in students’ math and reading abilities since the start of the pandemic, the Austin School District’s student scores on standardized tests have suffered little over the past three years, according to sources. data recently published by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Austin students still face challenges catching up with grade-level material, but the Austin District was among several large urban districts in which student scores remained relatively constant in reading and declined less spectacular in mathematics.

While national researchers are still unsure why this might be, local leaders believe the focus on individual progress and tailored teaching methods has helped students stay on track.

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Nationally, the picture for student achievement is grim, said Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

Nationwide, reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress fell 3 points, from 220 to 217 for fourth grade and from 263 to 260 for eighth grade, between 2019 and 2022. mathematics dropped 5 points, from 241 to 236, for fourth grade and 8 points, from 282 to 274, for eighth grade during the same period. Assessment results are reported as average scores on a scale of 0 to 500 for reading and math in grades four and eight.

The regular assessment gives a picture of how fourth and eighth graders are performing nationally and this year has offered a window into the effects of the pandemic on learning. Virtual learning, pandemic stressors, and home life disruptions have created challenges for students during the pandemic, causing many to fall behind the grade level.

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The picture in the Austin district, however, is different.

Reading scores in Austin actually improved between 2019 and 2022 for fourth grade from 217 to 220 and fell slightly from 257 to 255 for eighth grade, the data shows.

Math scores fell from 243 to 239 for fourth grade.

For eighth grade, math scores, like those in the rest of the country, fell more sharply, from 282 to 273, the data showed.

“The fact that the towns have been able to stay stable after everything we’ve been through seems like a positive thing to me,” Carr said.

Austin officials implemented several strategies during the pandemic that could have led the district to do better than the national average, they said.

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When students began returning to class, officials were determined to develop child-specific plans tailored to students’ academic level, said Elizabeth Casas, chief academic and school officer.

“We’re not going to worry about how many kids we can put on the STAAR test,” Casas said, referring to the state of Texas’ annual school readiness assessments. “Let’s take them from where we started and just show the growth.”

The district focused on building stepping stones for students who might have been a grade level or two behind, she said.

Administrators met weekly with teachers to review data to ensure students were meeting growth goals and added planning periods so teachers had more space to collaborate with colleagues, a she declared.

Social and Emotional Learning

Nationally, the data is concerning, Carr said. And understanding the underlying reasons for the declines might not be as simple as pointing to remote learning.

“There’s nothing in this data that indicates we can draw straight lines from time spent in remote learning per se and student achievement,” Carr said.

Instead, to understand what caused such drops in scores, researchers will need to assess changes in student behavior, mental health, bullying and a variety of other factors, she said. .

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Tiona Bell, principal of Blackshear Elementary School, thinks students did better in Austin because the district audited students’ social and emotional learning, which helped students feel safe enough to learn.

“Our focus on campus was really to make sure everyone was okay,” Bell said. “We have a pantry here. We have a pantry here. We’ve done a lot of these services to support our families.”

During the pandemic, Blackshear has moved from a state-rated C campus to an A-rated campus.

Mathematical performance “falling off a cliff”

Statewide, test results have plummeted during the pandemic. The performance of Texas students in math is particularly worrisome, said Jonathan Feinstein, state director of the Education Trust research firm.

“Compared to other states, Texas seems to fall off a cliff between fourth and eighth grades in reading and math,” Feinstein said.

Statewide, fourth-grade math scores fell 5 points, from 244 to 239, between 2019 and 2022, and eighth-grade math scores fell 7 points, from 280 to 273 , according to the data.

While Texas has placed more emphasis on early education, that focus also needs to be on the older classes, Feinstein said.

In Austin, eighth-grade math also showed the biggest drop.

The researchers expected math to decline more than reading, Carr said.

“The math is just being demonstrated year after year in research that we’ve found to be more sensitive to what’s going on in the classroom,” Carr said.

It’s much more common for children to read on their own than to solve math problems outside of school, she said.

Exactly how to help students who aren’t learning at their level will be different for each student, Carr said.

“Because the pandemic has affected all students differently, our recovery strategy must consider each student’s specific academic and developmental needs,” Carr said.

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