Digging into Dallas ISD’s numbers, certain stats initially jumped out. The district’s total of at-risk students is roughly 62%, for instance, while the number statewide is just under half.
We also have a lower four-year graduation rate: 82.8% versus the state’s 90.3%.
But Rosie Curts, a high school math teacher with the district, doesn’t believe those differences are too damning. To determine the at-risk rate, Texas considers measures such as the proportion of children with limited English proficiency, and Dallas' LEP percentage is more than twice that of the state's.
As far as the graduation rate goes, Curts also notes that Dallas performed similarly to other large urban districts, such as Houston and San Antonio. Students in these areas often have to deal with life challenges that kids in suburban districts don’t.
Yet something else did stand out to Curts. “The four-year graduation rate, it seems like it’s on par with the other urban districts,” she said. “But the college readiness is where I felt like we significantly underperformed.”
For the past couple of years, challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have disrupted public education nationwide. A pivot to virtual learning may have slowed COVID spread, but educators say it’s contributed to widespread learning loss and hampered college readiness.
The Tribune’s database shows that Dallas ISD’s average SAT and ACT scores are lower than the statewide averages. Nearly half of all Texas' graduating students are considered college-ready in math, yet only 28.7% of Dallas ISD students can say the same.
Part of the issue could be the district’s heavy emphasis on calculators, which can develop a dependence, said Curts, who’s also a member of the teachers union Alliance-AFT. Students might “completely freeze” amid testing that prohibits calculators for certain parts, such as the SAT.
“If teachers were teaching more to the child than the test, then those at-risk kids would be getting the attention that they need." – Rosie Curts, Dallas ISD teacher
Dallas ISD’s unique evaluation system also essentially incentivizes educators to teach to the test, she added. When teachers are too focused on getting students prepared for testing like the state's STAAR exam, it takes away from instructional time and often comes at the expense of a well-rounded education.
“If teachers were more teaching to the whole child and not just the test, then those at-risk kids would probably be getting more attention that they need,” Curts said.
The past two and a half years have been “hellacious” for teachers, students and their families, said Rena Honea, president of Dallas’ Alliance-AFT. There’s a looming educator exodus on the horizon spurred on by an unreasonable spike in demands and widespread burnout.
Many students have lacked support from family amid the pandemic, with some refusing to participate in virtual lessons, she said. Still, while Dallas ISD's numbers aren’t quite where Honea wants them to be, they could be a lot worse, and the district is making progress in ways that others are not.
“There’s definitely room for improvement, but I think Dallas is doing a heck of a job with the things that are present in our educational system today,” she said. “They’re doing a good job.”