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How Do Austin Students Compare to Other Cities?

Roy Varney
AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen (right), praised Austin students for thieir scores on a national test.

Austin public school students in fourth and eighth grade scored higher in math and reading than students in other large cities, according to results from a new government study released Wednesday. 

The report looks at results from a national standardized test given to 21 urban school districts with populations of 250,000 people or more. It’s part of the National Center for Education Statistics' National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

While the results are positive, the scores remained relatively flat from 2011 –  the last time Austin students took the test.

“When school districts reach the level of average attainment that Austin has reached – where you’re at or above the national average – it’s often very difficult to move those numbers upwards in any one testing cycle,” says Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a national organization of urban school districts.

According to the data, Austin students’ average scores are three to 10 points higher than students in other large cities. Austin fourth graders scored higher than their counterparts in Texas in math and reading, but Austin eighth graders’ average score is three points lower than Texas students in both subjects.

The divide between classes is most pronounced among English language learners who took the test's reading portion. 78 percent of Austin eighth grade English language learners fell under the "below basic" reading score.

Comparatively, 61 percent of Austin fourth grade English language learners fell under the below basic reading score. Austin Independent School District Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said the divide between grades can be attributed to the previous administration's policies.

"English language learners at the eighth grade level, by-and-large, were at in elementary school when I started as a superintendent," Carstarphen said. "Our approach to working with students ... was clearly not showing results, and our eighth grade students that was their bilingual experience in AISD."

Carstarphen said she was thankful the school board was open to changing the old model, and she praised the "significant gains" made by teachers and students.

More English language learners and students with disabilities in AISD took the test than previous years, according to Casserly.

"The scores stayed steady, but it was during a period where they were including a significantly greater number of students in their program," Casserly says.

The assessment is taken by a sample of students every two years in 21 participating urban school districts across the country. Austin has participated in the assessment since 2005.

Roy is a second year journalism professional track graduate student at the University of Texas.
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