Austin ISD’s Awful Mid-Semester Reading Scores

Austin’s students are struggling with basic literacy
Young Girl Flips Through Pages of Book
Amanda Kirsh, Burst

Earlier this week, I covered Austin Independent School District’s Pride Week, which, among other things, hosted a taxpayer-funded drag show for young children. The effort was meant to promote “inclusion … acceptance and celebrating everyone for who they are and being their authentic self.”

Evidently, the ability to read is not included in the definition of one’s authentic self, as Austin ISD’s mid-semester reading scores have proven dismal and highly concerning to advocates and community members. 

According to Austin ISD’s recently-released mid-semester data, only 44% of Austin ISD’s 3rd graders are on track to meet their grade-level standard by the end of the year. The results are even worse for poor and disadvantaged 3rd graders: only 21% of impoverished students, 24% of Latino and African-American students, and 17% of students learning English are expected to meet the grade-level standard. In contrast, 71% of Austin ISD’s white students are projected to meet expectations by the end of the year. 

A 2012 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who do not read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade are less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to pursue higher education in any form, and far more likely to live in poverty. As Austin ISD kept COVID restrictions that were both more strict and longer in duration than most other school districts, these effects are likely to be magnified. 

“The future of any school or school district is in jeopardy unless it addresses the achievement gap that exists between our White/Affluent students and our Poor/Students of Color,” said Terry Grier, the former superintendent of Houston Independent School District. He added that Austin’s poor performances were “shameful.”

“How does Austin get a reputation as “progressive” with this particularly awful achievement gap?” said Sandy Kress, a former Dallas Public Schools board member and nationally-renowned education reform advocate. “Since 2011, achievement has been lagging. Now it’s falling fast. Anyone care? What’s the plan to fix? There’s no issue more important. It’ll take courage to reverse,” he added

However, it seems Austin ISD will be continuing its emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social-emotional learning. The district’s Equity Team and Equity Advisory Committee continue to pump out resources relating to discipline, discrimination, and “systemic change” to support numerous identity groups. Beyond a few allusions to academic achievement, the words “reading” and “literacy” do not appear anywhere in this framework. 

Garion Frankel
Garion Frankel is a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service with a concentration in education policy and management. He is a Young Voices contributor, and Chalkboard Review’s breaking news reporter.

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