The Dallas Independent School District has a high percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged and learning English. Given these challenges, district officials were pleased with how some students fared on the recent Nation’s Report Card. Here are some of the highs and lows.
Dallas is one of 21 mostly urban districts in the country that participated in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation’s Report Card. This year’s group of Dallas test takers included more students whose first language isn’t English. Despite that, students in fourth and eighth grade did better in math and reading than the national average.
“When you look at our results, we’re different than a lot of other districts in that respect,” said MariCarmen Eroles, manager in the district’s Office of Community Engagement. “Not only are we dealing with a high number of English Language Learners – a very diverse population – but it’s also a population that struggles economically and that has an impact sometimes in what happens in the schools.”
She says this group of students showed that their language limitations didn’t hold them completely back. Economically disadvantaged students also did well -- 88 percent of those who took the math assessment outperformed four other similar districts. Another highlight? Overall, Dallas fourth graders made significant gains in math and was one of three districts that saw gains compared to 2013.
Eroles says these results give Dallas educators hope. Still, not everything was rosy.
Eighth graders in Dallas and in other districts around the country saw a decline in math and reading scores.
“I think definitely we want to look at reading and see what we can do to improve those scores even more because, you know, reading is a fundamental subject,” Eroles said. “If not you’re not reading at grade level, then you’re going to have problems with a lot of subjects.”
DeEtta Culbertson, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, says educators are getting some help. The Legislature recently approved instituting math and reading academies for teachers.
“Teachers will receive strong professional development and support and learn teaching reading, which they can then in turn go back to their school districts and provide reading professional development to other teachers.”
Culbertson says these academies have a good track record of helping student scores.
Some say scores from the Nation’s Report Card can be misleading, especially when people only compare the scores of each state.
“They reflect the fact that student demographics are very different across states, but they don’t adjust for that fact,” said Matt Chingos, senior fellow, is with the Urban Institute.
Chingos made some adjustments and what he found was promising for Texas – that students who are learning English did better than their peers in other states.
He doesn’t, however, have an answer for why some students are doing better than others.
“Is it because Texas has a higher concentration of English Language Learners, so there’s more of a community? Is it because of what the schools in Texas are doing or is it because of something in the water? He asked. “These data just don’t tell us that.”
Dallas officials say they’re still dissecting the results and coming up with ways to improve their curriculum.