May 19, 2023 - Education

How Dallas schools boosted diversity in honors classes

Data: Dallas Independent School District; Chart: Lindsey Bailey/Axios
Data: Dallas Independent School District; Chart: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Dallas ISD has dramatically increased the number of Hispanic and Black students in honors classes, according to a report from The 74, a nonprofit news organization covering education.

Why it matters: Far more students are on track to take eighth-grade algebra, a prerequisite for more advanced coursework in high school, per The 74. Prior to a 2019 policy change, only 20% of Dallas ISD eighth graders were enrolled in Algebra I, compared with 60% today.

  • "The policy has not led to a decrease in student scores as some speculated," according to The 74.

By the numbers: The district told The 74 that the pass rates for eighth-grade Algebra I students are similar to prior years, with 95% of Hispanic students passing the state algebra exam and 76% meeting grade-level proficiency, and 91% of Black students passing the test and 65% meeting grade level proficiency.

How it happened: The district decided to move from an opt-in model to an opt-out policy in the 2019-20 school year. Any student who scores well on state exams is automatically enrolled in advanced mathematics, reading, science or social studies — or some combination of the four.

  • Under the new model, students can opt out only with parents' written permission.
  • Before the policy change, students who wanted to join honors classes in sixth, seventh and eighth grade had to opt in themselves or get a recommendation — usually from a teacher or parent.

Context: Dallas ISD has nearly 154,000 students, the second-largest district in Texas behind Houston. Hispanic students make up 71% of Dallas ISD's enrollment, according to the district's most recent data. Black students account for 20%.

Flashback: Dallas ISD was one of the only urban school districts in the country that didn't have significant drops in fourth-grade math or reading scores, according to last year's National Report Card from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Yes, but: Eighth graders in Texas have fallen behind their peers in other states.

What they're saying: "Advanced coursework in high school is a pipeline," Shannon Trejo, Dallas ISD's chief academic officer, told The 74.

  • "You have to get in in middle school. The question was, 'How do we ensure students who are prepared are enrolling?'"

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