APS proficiency scores show a district holding steady

Published 6:45 am Saturday, March 13, 2021

At Monday’s Austin Public Schools Board Meeting, Corey Haugen, Director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment, brought board members up to speed on early reading and math proficiency scores at the school.

In the face of a COVID-19 altered school year that started a year ago, the district has been happy with the progress of its students in kindergarten through fourth grade in both early reading and math proficiency, with only a very slight lag in some areas.

“At this point we’re finding we are about on average 5 to 6 percent behind in terms of proficiency where we were pre-pandemic,” Haugen said. “When you look at that nationally, we’re coming in at or below learning loss then what they have had in the national studies.”

Internal data taken by the district reflects this trend in grades kindergarten through eighth grade.

Data is based on a statistical base that starts at 0. Students that are found to be 0 to plus is where the district aims to be with each student, while minus demonstrates a loss in proficiency.

What data showed was that district-wide, second through eight-grade [2,373] students came in at a score of -.029 in math and -.022 in reading. While those scores are in the negative, school officials are happy nonetheless.

Broken down across the grades, those plus/minus scores fluctuated only a little and didn’t reach a .5 threshold that Haugen said would be a statistical deviation that would draw more attention.

“When [Haugen] presented the numbers as he did, it was really reassuring,” said School Board Chair Kathy Green. “That our staff is on the right track to put the supports in place for our students.”

What the numbers did point out, however, was that as the numbers were further broken down, the biggest difference in the plus/minus metric was with students on Free and Reduced lunches as opposed to those students not using the program. In reading, that group showed an overall decrease of -.194 in reading and -.227 in math, but even that is well within the .5 threshold that would be significantly important enough to take a closer look.

“Those numbers, they are not out of line to what we’ve seen with test scores,” Green said. “Students of poverty and reduced means, that’s a particular dynamic.”

“It’s worrisome, but it’s not surprising,” Green continued. “That is a cohort of students that the district is concerned about and it’s not just a local concern. That’s a state and national concern.”

When the pandemic began shutting things down last March, including Austin Public Schools, many expressed an understanding that scores started falling behind. Distance learning on such a grand scale was a new experience, but as districts and families began finding their footing, the system began falling back into place.

For the Austin district, that was a specific goal from the start. Even when state testing was shut down to accommodate the new form of learning, Austin continued its internal testing.

“We were in constant monitoring mode to make sure kids are where they need to be,” said Austin Public Schools Superintendent David Krenz. “We didn’t leave it up to chance. That was critical for us to stay ahead.”

While Krenz too was happy with what the scores presented by Haugen Monday night reflected, he noticed that some students previously at the higher end of the spectrum were starting to lag.

“Some of the kids scoring higher were at the level,” Krenz said. “That would be a little bit of the highest level students that might not be able to push themselves quite as high. But it’s good to see them moving at the rate they were moving at.”

The numbers also point to the benefits of being able to get back to live-teaching in some fashion, something APS was eager to get back to from the beginning.

In getting students back in school on even a part-time basis, Austin has been able to forge ahead better than many districts.

“That was how our planning went and we worked really hard on that,” Krenz said. “I think the biggest concern you’ve heard from other places and you’ve seen those gaps widen and losses grow, those districts that haven’t been in school. We made a concerted effort to open in-person in some form or another.”

Austin administration feels the district is in a good place to continue forward based on the scores it continues to get, both from an internal and state level. They are taking it as another piece of evidence that Austin met the COVID challenge and has adapted to it about as good as a district can in making sure its students keep up.

“What it says about the district is that we’ve got our focus on learning,” Green said. “But I would be remiss if we left the parents and guardians out of this. It’s been a struggle for the families getting through COVID, taking on a responsibility that wasn’t expected a year ago and they were thrust into it.”

“Huge shout out to the parents,” she added.