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Local ISD Still Struggling Despite Upticks on Benchmark Exams

Student filling out exam answer sheet | Image by Constantine Pankin/Shutterstock
Student filling out exam answer sheet | Image by Constantine Pankin/Shutterstock

Fort Worth ISD recently reported to its school board and the Fort Worth City Council that its K-8 students showed growth on their midyear benchmark exams.

The tests, known as the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), track academic growth and are intended to assist teachers with formulating their lessons.

“What I’d like to point out is that every single grade level had growth from the beginning of the year to the middle of the year,” Angélica Ramsey, superintendent of Fort Worth ISD, told council members, according to the Fort Worth Report. “It’s great news for the City of Fort Worth.”

Not everyone is celebrating, however.

According to an analysis of the MAP scores by FWR, Fort Worth ISD’s midyear scores in reading and math are below grade level.

Robert Rogers, president of the Reading League of Texas, said that the results show that Fort Worth ISD students are behind national averages, with a gap that widens at each grade. Growth itself is not enough, according to Rogers.

“If they’re growing in reading but not growing at the national norm, we’re falling behind,” Rogers said, according to FWR. “If we’re going to have meaningful growth, we’ve got to be exceeding that.”

Jo Beth Jimerson, a professor at TCU and former teacher and assistant principal, said that teachers can use MAP scores to improve student achievement, including on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams.

Fort Worth ISD saw just 32% of its students score at grade level on the STAAR exam during the 2021-2022 school year, according to the latest Texas Education Agency accountability report. This is worse than struggling Dallas ISD, which saw only 41% of students score at grade level on the STAAR exam that school year and the state average of 48%.

However, Fort Worth ISD did beat its neighbor with an on-time graduation rate of 85.7%, while almost 20% of Dallas ISD’s graduating Class of 2022 did not graduate on time. Statewide, the average rate of graduation within four years was 90%.

“If teachers get training, the professional learning, and the time they need, they can use these scores in really rich ways,” Jimerson said, per FWR. “MAP can be likened to a coach on the sideline during a game, providing real-time insights that need adjustments, while the STAAR is more like the box score after the game, showing the results.”

Interpreting the data from the MAP exams can be confusing — and not just for teachers.

According to FWR, city council members and school board members had difficulty understanding the MAP data presented to them by Ramsey.

“I consider myself reasonably informed but, at times, I even have difficulty wrapping my head around all that information presented,” Council Member Carlos Flores, who has two children attending Fort Worth ISD, said, per FWR.

It was the same for Fort Worth ISD trustee Kevin Lynch.

“I have several kids in the district and see MAP reports come home. I’m just trying to make sense of this data,” he said.

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