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Dallas Kids Improve On National Tests, But Scores Are Below National Average

DISD 8th graders hit the books. They did better than Dallas kids two years ago, but not better than the national average

The Nation’s Report Card for student performance came out Wednesday, and, at first glance, the news may seem disappointing for Dallas. Math and reading scores for Dallas ISD kids were below the national average. But students here have shown improvement, especially in reading.

The Department of Education measured fourth and eighth graders in reading and math in Dallas and 20 other big cities. Cecilia Oakeley, DISD’s assistant superintendent of evaluation, says the district volunteered to be involved in this test two years ago.  

“We wanted to show where we stood nationally,” Oakeley said. “Our tests at the state level  just compare how we do within the state. So this is a way to show how we’re doing nationally, show our progress over time, see how we fare.”

Most progress among eighth-grade readers

The most progress occurred among eighth-grade readers. Dallas and only four other big city districts improved their reading scores since 2011. MaricarmenEroles, with the DISD, isn’t sure why.

“That transition from eighth grade to ninth grade is crucial for successful students overall and in high school,” Eroles said. “So it may be that middle schools have been putting a lot of emphasis in their reading and math. But I don't know if we’ve done, as a district, anything special. But the middle schools are very aware of the importance of students being successful at that level because it does make a difference.”  

Overall, DISD scores were largely flat. But Oakeley said some low-income and minority groups improved over the past two years.

“Our African Americans are competitive with other districts, even with large cities and at the national level, which is where we tend to see the biggest gap in our district," Oakeley said. "And then our Hispanics are really outperforming, our ELL are doing great.”

ELL stands for English language learners.

"In the right direction"

No matter how well Dallas students may have improved their scores since the last Nation’s Report Card, they still fell below the national average in every category.

Still, Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles is encouraged by the findings. He says they show Dallas kids can hold their own compared to other big city districts.  But challenges persist. 

“I’ve said there is a ways to go before we get our kids ‘college and career ready.’ We know that,” Miles said. “We’re looking to move in the right direction. I think that’s what we did. There’s always things we can improve on. We’ll be looking at what we can improve in. It’s important information, but it’s just one data point and people need to keep that in mind. We’re going to look at the whole picture to determine what we need to do specifically.”

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.