Survey shows district at or above statewide average
By GARY LONG | The Brownsville Herald
November 18, 2007
Brownsville students scored higher on the TAKS than their counterparts in other school districts on the U.S.-Mexico border and close to the statewide average, according to research findings released earlier this month by the San Antonio-based Regional Educational Laboratory-Southwest.
The research report “La Frontera: Student Achievement in Texas Border and Non-Border Districts” analyzes Texas Education Agency data in an effort to show differences in student performance on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test between border and non-border districts.
It also reports how border and non-border districts differ in location, student demographics, teacher data and community economics.
The purpose is to provide policymakers with “a data-driven profile along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas,” an area the report defines as “La Frontera.”
“It’s a descriptive reporting out of the facts,” Kathy Shapley, senior researcher at REL-Southwest, said of the report. “It provides a high-level overview of the facts regarding border and non-border schools.”
The report uses the TEA data warehouse for the 2005-06 school year, which shows that students in the state’s 63 border school districts, those within 20 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, passed the TAKS in reading or English language arts and mathematics at a lower rate than their counterparts in Texas’ 908 non-border districts and 62 margin districts, those between 20 and 100 miles from the border.
“At each of the grade levels studied, students in the border region have lower pass rates ... than students in other regions,” the report’s summary says. “This is not surprising considering the unique regional characteristics summarized in this study and existing knowledge about factors related to student achievement. Academic achievement is a cumulative function of family, community, and school experiences. Research suggests that larger districts with lower family socioeconomic status levels and less experienced teachers — the profile associated with the La Frontera region — tend to have lower student achievement.”
However, TEA figures provided by the Brownsville Independent School District for its students show them passing the TAKS at a rate close to the statewide average and above the passing rates for border districts reported by the survey.
Raul Vasquez, BISD administrator for assessment, research and evaluation, said BISD’s scores show that “the capacity of students to learn is just as good on the border as it is anywhere else in Texas.
“There’s this misconception that if you’re on the border you’re going to have problems, that the farther you are from the border, the better off you are,” Vasquez said.
“This town sits right here next to Mexico, and yet the scores show that in almost all cases we’re at or above the state standard,” he said.
The report gives average percentage passing figures in third, fifth, eighth and 11th grades.
In third grade, 84.5 percent of border students passed the the reading or English language arts portion of the TAKS administered in spring 2006, compared to 87.4 percent in margin districts, 89.3 percent in nonborder districts and 88.9 percent statewide.
In math, the figure was 74.8 percent passing for the border, 76.2 percent in margin districts, 81.6 percent in nonborder districts and an 80.8 percent statewide average.
By comparison, 93.8 percent of BISD third-graders passed the reading/English language arts and 78.2 percent passed the math portion of the TAKS.
By the 11th grade, the figure was 84.2 percent for the border in reading/English language arts compared to to 87.1 percent for margin districts, 89.1 percent for non-border districts and 88.5 statewide. For BISD, the passing rate was 85.3 percent.
In math, the 11th-grade figure was 72.1 percent passing for the border, 76.1 percent in margin districts, 79.8 percent in nonborder districts and a 79.1 percent statewide average. BISD’s passing rate was 76 percent.
The survey also found that despite perceptions to the contrary, average base teacher salaries are somewhat higher along the border across all experience categories.
“This is significant because (earlier data) indicated that the leaders in border districts thought that their region offered uncompetitive salaries that posed a barrier to teacher recruitment,” the report stated.
The survey shows a $32,084 average annual salary for new teachers in the border districts, compared to $29,444 in margin districts, $29,458 in nonborder districts and a statewide average of $29,623.
BISD’s teacher salary schedule for the current school year begins at $38,000 annually for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience and rises based on experience and education to peak at $60,470 for a teacher with 27 years of experience and a doctoral degree.
Teacher salaries may have been lower on the border at one time but that’s certainly not the case now, said Susan Fox, BISD’S assistant superintendent for human resources.
“We’ve just finished our fall recruiting drive and we’ve gotten to where we do it like the chamber of commerce does recruiting businesses,” Fox said.
“Like the beach? Come and teach” is the slogan.
Fox said BISD employs a large number of Hispanic teachers, a predictable finding reported by the survey for all border districts.
The education schools at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College and the University of Texas-Pan American supply most of those teachers, who work mainly in the primary grades where a large number of students are still learning English.
The survey reports a 15 percent turnover rate for teachers in border districts, 18.1 percent for margin districts, 16.4 percent for nonborder districts and a statewide average of 16.4 percent.
Fox said BISD’s teacher turnover rate was 6 percent for the year reported in the survey, 2005-06.