Sunday, November 01, 2009

Nearly half of Dallas 5th-graders not ready for middle school

Nearly half of Dallas 5th-graders not ready for middle school
10:00 AM CDT on Thursday, October 22, 2009

By DIANE RADO / The Dallas Morning News
As Dallas schools focus on getting all students ready for college, they face a daunting challenge uncovered by a new district tracking system: Almost half of fifth-graders are not even ready for middle school.

Roughly 52 percent of the fifth-graders were considered "on track for middle school" at the end of their elementary years in 2008-09, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of data recently released by the school district.

To be considered ready for middle school, fifth-graders had to pass the state TAKS exams in reading, math and science, and could not fail more than one core academic class, according to the district's formula.

The low "on track" rates at many schools raise a question about how students can become ready for college if they haven't even mastered the basics of elementary school.

"It obviously makes it more of a challenge, there is no question – but it can be done," said Dallas ISD spokesman Jon Dahlander. "We have students who come in the ninth grade who don't speak a word of English, and they have gone on to graduate as valedictorians of their schools and gotten scholarships at some of the top universities."

The on-track rates at 145 elementaries range widely from school to school in all sections of the city, though they generally are higher in northern Dallas schools.

At the district's top magnet schools, more than 90 percent of fifth-graders were considered on track. But at 60 schools across the district, fewer than half of fifth-graders were deemed prepared, the data shows.

Linda Johnson, executive director of the Dallas Education Foundation, said "it's not too late" for fifth-graders who are behind.

"It just means that urban districts have to develop interventions that are going to assist those students," she said.

The foundation managed a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation that helped DISD build an extensive data-tracking system and publish "scorecards" for each school. The reports are posted for parents on the school district's Web site.

The 2008-09 scorecards include data on everything from student test scores to teacher turnover.

The data on fifth-grade readiness is considered unique, making comparisons with other Texas districts difficult. The Texas Education Agency doesn't collect such data, agency officials said. Houston's school district is developing similar scorecards, but has not begun using them yet.

"In the state of Texas, Dallas is very forward-thinking," said Lori Fey, who leads policy efforts for the Dell Foundation. "Dallas has been very progressive in both developing and implementing these kinds of things for the benefit of their constituents."

Dahlander said that the new measure is part of the district's efforts to use data to track student performance and keep parents informed. The overarching goal is to make sure children are college-ready by the time they graduate from high school – and that task starts early.

"You don't just get on the college track in high school. You're really on the college track well before that," Dahlander said.

At William B. Travis Vanguard and Academy for the Academically Talented and Gifted, 97 percent of fifth-graders were considered on track for middle school in 2008-09 – the highest rate in the district.

Principal Mari Smith said that her top-performing students have high test scores and meet other requirements to get admitted. "They are receptive to being taught," she said.

Even so, the school focuses on the quality of teaching and a rigorous curriculum that goes beyond what is required on state achievement tests.

"I will tell you this: We do not emphasize the TAKS test here. We teach the kids," Smith said, referring to the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills used to judge schools under state and federal academic standards. Smith said the school does limited test preparation just before the TAKS is given, and "then we forget it and we go on and teach again."

Having worked in schools that are not filled with gifted students, Smith said she understands the challenges of preparing youngsters who face poverty and other hardships.

"There are so many different variables. They might not know where their mother and daddy are. They might be homeless. Everything else is on their mind, and not learning," Smith said. If students fall behind, teachers have to work that much harder to bring them back to grade level.

S.S. Conner, an elementary school where 95 percent of children are low-income, posted one of the lowest on-track rates in the district, with only 29 percent of fifth-graders considered ready for middle school.

Principal J. Cherie McMillan said passing rates on the state science test appeared to be the problem.

"I'm not real big on hiding something that is factual," McMillan said. "The scores dropped in science. There is no doubt." The school has hired a science coach and taken other measures to increase scores.

"We will significantly improve this year," she said.

Daniel Webster Elementary posted the lowest on-track rate in the district – 8 percent – but principal Constance Whalon said a swine flu outbreak interrupted science testing and closed the school.

Percentages of DISD fifth-graders ready for middle school
The Dallas Independent School District collects data on the percentage of fifth-graders considered "on track" for middle school after their elementary years. The measure is based on fifth-grade test performance and grades. Across the district, almost half of fifth-graders in 2008-09 weren't considered ready for middle school. Here are the school-by-school percentages for 145 elementary campuses.

Wm. B. Travis Talented & Gifted 97%
Harry Stone Montessori 91
George Bannerman Dealey Montessori 91
John Neely Bryan 90
Jimmie Tyler Brashear 82
Clinton P. Russell 82
William B. Miller 81
Arthur Kramer 80
Sidney Lanier Expressive Arts 77
Lakewood 77
Harry C. Withers 77
Walnut Hill 76
B.F. Darrell 75
Oran M. Roberts 73
Obadiah Knight 73
Nathan Adams 73
Charles Rice 71
Eladio R. Martinez 70
Stonewall Jackson 70
Adelle Turner 69
Robert E. Lee 69
George Peabody 68
K.B. Polk Talented & Gifted 68
Anson Jones 67
Louise Wolff Kahn 67
Julius Dorsey 66
Celestino Mauricio Soto 64
Everette Lee Degolyer 64
Preston Hollow 63
Ronald E. McNair 62
Stephen C. Foster 62
John F. Kennedy 61
Felix G. Botello 61
Victor H. Hexter 61
Edwin J. Kiest 60
Reinhardt 60
Thomas L. Marsalis 59
Leila P. Cowart 59
Albert Sidney Johnston 59
Kleberg 59
San Jacinto 58
César Chávez 58
James Bowie 58
Arcadia Park 58
T.G. Terry 58
Casa View 58
H.S. Thompson 57
Esperanza "Hope" Medrano 57
Arturo Salazar 57
Edna Rowe 56
Margaret B. Henderson 56
William L. Cabell 56
Maple Lawn 55
John F. Peeler 55
James S. Hogg 55
Winnetka 55
Martin Weiss 55
Leslie A. Stemmons 55
Martha Turner Reilly 55
Ben Milam 55
Anne Frank 55
Lida Hooe 54
William M. Anderson 54
Dan D. Rogers 54
Paul L. Dunbar 53
Urban Park 53
L.O. Donald 52
Barbara Jordan 52
Mark Twain Leadership 52
Roger Q. Mills 52
B.H. Macon 52
Highland Meadows 52
Larry G. Smith 52
F.P. Caillet 52
John H. Reagan 51
Lorenzo De Zavala 51
Birdie Alexander 51
Maria Moreno 51
Gilbert Cuellar 51
Charles A. Gill 51
Herbert Marcus 51
Rufus C. Burleson 50
Arlington Park 50
Ignacio Zaragoza 50
Rosemont 50
J.W. Ray 49
Joseph J. Rhoads 49
Lisbon 49
John Q. Adams 49
Jerry R. Junkins 48
Ascher Silberstein 47
Martin Luther King Jr. 47
John Ireland 47
W.W. Bushman 47
Central 47
Lee A. McShan Jr. 47
Onesimo Hernandez 46
C.A. Tatum Jr. 46
City Park 45
Nancy J. Cochran 45
Harrell Budd 45
C.F. Carr 44
Tom C. Gooch 44
Gabe P. Allen 43
Mary McLeod Bethune 43
Whitney M. Young 43
Henry B. Gonzalez 43
W.A. Blair 42
Richard Lagow 42
Sam Houston 41
R.L. Thornton 41
Nathaniel Hawthorne 41
Alex Sanger 41
Sudie L. Williams 41
John J. Pershing 41
John W. Carpenter 40
Clara Oliver 40
George W. Truett 39
Tom W. Field 39
Julian T. Saldivar 39
Thomas Tolbert 39
Bayles 39
Leonides Gonzalez Cigarroa 38
Annie Webb Blanton 38
John W. Runyon 38
Jill Stone 38
Frank Guzick 37
David G. Burnet 37
Lenore Kirk Hall 37
Nancy Moseley 37
Pleasant Grove 37
George W. Carver 36
N.W. Harllee 36
J.N. Ervin 36
L.L. Hotchkiss 36
Eduardo Mata 35
Stevens Park 35
Sequoyah 35
J.P. Starks 30
S.S. Conner 29
Edward Titche 27
Jack Lowe Sr. 26
Amelia Earhart 21
Frederick Douglass 17
Daniel Webster* 8
SOURCE: DISD 2008-09 school "scorecards"

*Webster's science testing was disrupted because of swine flu, affecting on-track rating

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