Amid COVID-19 Spread, AISD Benchmarks Its Future

District changes dozens of its performance measures

Austin High School closed earlier this week after a rise in COVID-19 cases (Photo by Jana Birchum)

As Texas enters a new wave of COVID-19 infections and Austin hospitals take in patients from overwhelmed areas as far away as El Paso, Austin ISD's Board of Trustees met in person behind Plexiglas dividers to decide the district's future priorities. This week, the first AISD school closed its campus in response to COVID-19 – and that could be followed by more closures and limitations soon if Austin enters Stage 4 of our local risk-based guidelines.

Austin High School, which closed for three days this week out of an "abundance of caution," recorded seven new cases last week, out of 54 new AISD cases, Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said at Monday's board meeting. Although there was no evidence of spread within the school building, she said, over 300 people at Austin High were ordered to quarantine last week. At press time, she planned to reopen Austin High today, Thursday, Nov. 19, although the state permits a slightly longer shutdown.

However, the bulk of the board meeting was devoted to negotiations over the district scorecard – a compilation of specific metrics against which the board of trustees grades the performance of the superintendent and the district. Although multiple amendments were proposed, the only one that passed was a minor formatting change moving three preexisting metrics to a new section specifically about student well-being. But the revised scorecard as presented by staff contains more than 30 changes to the district's top performance measures from last year, focusing on using data from state tests, retaining teachers and students, and emphasizing career readiness over advanced academics.

One area with substantially different metrics on this year's scorecard is special education. Trustee Arati Singh put forward and then withdrew an amendment about assessing special ed students with non-STAAR tests. However, Elizalde was concerned with the potential of decreased rigor without STAAR testing (a dismal 26% of special ed students meet STAAR standards) and the difficulty of implementing a one-size-fits-all special education measure. Metrics about dyslexia evaluations and reading performance from 2020-21's scorecard were dropped and replaced with the STAAR metric and one for special education discipline disparities.

Singh was the only vote against the final scorecard, because of the 3-4-1 failure of her proposed amendment to include a metric on direct-to-college enrollment for Black and Hispanic students, an area where she said Austin is well below the state average. Four metrics related to Black and Hispanic students in advanced academic programs were cut from the previous scorecard, and two were added about increasing dual-credit enrollment and industry certifications. Singh's amendment was strongly criticized by District 1 Trustee LaTisha Anderson, who said she was concerned about devaluing students who don't want to attend college and who choose to pursue careers instead. Elizalde also ­reiterated a message she delivered throughout the night: Just because it's not on the scorecard doesn't mean we don't care.

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Austin Independent School District, COVID-19, Austin ISD Board of Trustees, Stephanie Elizalde, Austin High School, Arati Singh, LaTisha Anderson, STAAR testing

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