Austin ISD Pushes Teachers To Raise Expectations To Close Achievement Gap

Nov 22, 2017

Students of color in the Austin Independent School District aren’t doing as well academically as their white peers, so the district's Board of Trustees had a discussion earlier this month about how to address this "achievement gap."

“Our percentages, our gaps, are deplorable," board member Ted Gordon said. "I don’t think we can hide any more from that fact. We need to come together, whether we think this is one thing or another, to try to put our perspectives together and make this thing change.”

When it comes to reading scores, for example, 80 percent of white students passed a statewide standardized test in 2017. Half as many Latino students passed the same test, and only a third of black students did.

The board discussed two solutions to fixing the gap. First, it developed a set of guidelines to support black students specifically, because the gap between black students and their peers is the largest.  The guidelines include training teachers to learn the needs of and support their black students. The plan also calls for teachers to monitor the progress of every black child. 

Secondly, Superintendent Paul Cruz said the district needs to change the way teachers think.

“I do think a significant piece is implicit bias and expectation level,” he said.

Implicit bias is a teacher having a subconscious belief that a student from a certain income bracket or who looks a certain way can only achieve so much. Cruz said to combat the negative effects of that, teachers need to focus on one thing with their students: expectation level.

“I do think that is significant when we look at student performance in any type of category,” Cruz said.

He said regardless of a student’s background, teachers should have high expectations and push every student toward college or career goals. Teachers should also make sure kids of color are considered for enrichment classes and extracurricular activities, for example.

The board also discussed the achievement gap for special education students and English learners. Cruz said teachers need to adjust their lessons to the learning styles of these groups.

"It’s recognizing that it’s just different," he said. "It’s not wrong."