Brent Beasley, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Education Partnership, loves hearing the sound of De Zavala Elementary School students playing during recess as he works in his home office. 

What he does not like is the sound of a trash truck picking up the nearby dumpsters in the early morning. Both things are true, and Beasley accepts that. 

A new report from Beasley’s organization shows that the state of education in Fort Worth is a lot like what he described about hearing outside of his home. There is plenty to love, but there are still issues. Many schools in the city saw gains in the number of students meeting grade level on the state standardized test, but many are not yet meeting pre-pandemic levels of success, according to the analysis. 

The Fort Worth Education Partnership’s new report analyzing results from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness shows this dichotomy of schools in the city.

“We know that there has been an extraordinary effort by many schools, teachers and families to get students back on track, but the fact remains, we still have much work to do to provide every child the education we promise them,” Beasley told the Fort Worth Report.

The Fort Worth Education Partnership, a nonprofit organization that wants to bring awareness about the state of schools in the city, looked at the 141,500 students enrolled in 12 independent school districts and the 17,900 students in 15 charter school networks. The report examined only the performance of third- to eighth-grade students.

Across all public schools in Fort Worth, 36% of students in the third to eighth grades met grade level on the state tests for reading, math, science and social studies. That means slightly more than one in three Fort Worth students are performing at or above their grade. This marks an 8 percentage point gain from 2021. However, the 2022 figure is still 3 percentage points lower than in 2019, the last year before the pandemic.

The Fort Worth Education Partnership’s focus on whether students are on grade level is intentional. Beasley described it as a clear metric to determine if students are receiving a great education in Fort Worth. 

In comparison, the state’s accountability rating system doles out A-F grades for individual schools and for entire districts. However, Beasley said, that approach gives parents and education officials only an understanding of how schools are doing, not necessarily students.

“The unfortunate truth right now is that, despite the progress in meeting grade level over the last year, still just over a third of the public school students in the city of Fort Worth are on grade level,” Beasley said. 

Beasley offered two examples of looking at the state of education in Fort Worth.

“When you see the school buses lined up for drop-off in the morning, we must recognize that nearly two out of every three buses are filled with students who are behind where we want them to be,” he said. “We could fill up AT&T Stadium with the over 100,000 students in Fort Worth who are still not at grade level academically.”

Mayor Pro Tem Gyna Bivens and council member Carlos Flores told Beasley they could not understand why they have seen conflicting reports about the state of education in Fort Worth. Both admitted they are not experts in education, but recognized more needs to be done to ensure students are succeeding.

Flores is a parent. Looking through the Fort Worth Education Partnership’s report, some of the numbers are troubling.

“Like you said, there are some difficult conversations that need to be had,” Flores said.

Flores acknowledged improving education in Fort Worth is not about looking at just one particular district, but all of them. 

Performance in City Council districts, schools

Student performance varies on their location, a pattern that the Fort Worth Education Partnership previously highlighted. The group’s analysis breaks down academic performance by the Fort Worth City Council districts.

District 7 covers north Fort Worth and includes schools from Fort Worth ISD, Keller ISD, Northwest ISD, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD and charter network International Leadership of Texas. 

District 7 saw 48% of its 34,300 students perform at grade level — the highest across all City Council districts. While that is a 6 percentage point increase from 2021, the number is 6 percentage points lower than what it was in 2019.

District 8, which covers parts of east and south Fort Worth, saw 25% of its 20,300 students performing at grade level. District 8 includes schools from Fort Worth ISD, Crowley ISD, Everman ISD, IDEA Public Schools, High Point Academy and Uplift Education. This is an 8 percentage point increase from 2021, and a 2 percentage point decline between 2019’s 27% of students at grade level.

Eight schools in Fort Worth saw significant growth in the number of students meeting grade level. These campuses saw gains of 20 percentage points and higher. Five of the schools that saw dramatic increases are in Fort Worth ISD. 

David L. Walker Elementary in Crowley ISD saw the highest growth between 2021 and 2022, according to the report. The number of students meeting grade level at the school increased 32 percentage points to 44%.

Ten schools in Fort Worth, though, did not see any gains or saw a drop in the number of students meeting grade level, according to the report.

However, two of the campuses have more than half of students meeting grade level. Fort Worth ISD’s Overton Park Elementary did not see any gains, but almost nine out of 10 students met grade level. Charter school Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts saw a 2 percentage point decrease, but just over six out of 10 students met grade level.

The remaining eight campuses have fewer than half of students meeting grade level. Of those, six did not see growth from 2021 and two saw decreases. Fort Worth ISD’s Monnig Middle School slipped 4 percentage points and saw 14% of students meeting grade level this year. Truett Wilson Middle School in Northwest ISD dropped 2 percentage points to 44% of students meeting grade level.

‘A healthy city’

Mayor Mattie Parker told her fellow City Council members that education and Beasley’s report is out of the box of their formal responsibilities. However, she encouraged council members to go visit campuses, find out what their needs are and help support them.

Beasley highlighted the work of some council members in education. For example, council member Michael Crain spoke at a Fort Worth ISD school board meeting earlier this year and council member Chris Nettles drove to Austin to speak in support of a new charter school.

“We can’t have a healthy city … without students reading and doing math at grade level,” Beasley told the Fort Worth City Council.

As schools continue to get students back on track, educators have a new mission in the 2022-23 academic year: Prepare children for a new and harder version of the STAAR test. Whether schools will keep their 2022 gains next year is unknown, but education leaders are searching for paths to sustain growth.

Keeping recent improvements was important for Flores, the council member. Even before the pandemic, Flores saw trends within schools in his District 2 on the Northside that showed why students have not met grade level.

“There are some indications of improvements in certain areas, and that’s reassuring only to a certain extent,” Flores said. “What I’m interested in is sustained improvements and how to get those sustained improvements.”

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.