The Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently released results of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) for spring 2021. (See https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/2021-staar-analysis-presentation.pdf for a summary.) The tests cover mathematics and reading for grades 3–8 as well as writing and science for some grades, eighth grade social studies, and high school end-of-course exams in Algebra I, English I, English II, Biology, and U.S. History. The results indicate abysmal outcomes pretty much across the board when compared to 2019, as districts struggled to deal with disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The numbers of students not performing at grade level escalated for almost every subject area and grade, reversing generally improving trends in recent years. For mathematics, the percentage of students meeting standards was only 35%, down from 50% in 2019. Some grade levels were particularly hard hit, with only 25% of grade 7 and 30% of grade 3 students performing satisfactorily. Reading scores also dropped, though not as severely, with 43% of students at grade level (down from 47% in 2019).
Not surprisingly, the outcomes were generally lower in districts where remote learning was more prevalent. Imagine the challenges of trying to teach and learn third grade math (or any math) virtually. It’s tough. Districts with fewer than 25% in person most of the year saw the percentage of students not meeting grade level in math worsen by 32 percentage points, compared to a nine-percentage-point drop in districts with 75% on site. Economically disadvantaged students were particularly negatively affected, as were Black and Hispanic students. Far too many basically missed the entire year. It is tragic, and the urgency of a powerful response is palpable.
As noted by the TEA, the results highlight the infrastructure needed to address lost learning opportunities and emphasize the important role of adequate resources. Some much-needed assistance was provided in recent legislation which permits eligible students to access high performing instructors and additional tutoring and school systems to accelerate learning through rigorous instructional materials, additional teacher support, and expanded learning time. Unfortunately, however, the federal money designated to assist school districts from the various stimulus programs has been partially delayed and offset. Local districts need these funds now in order to be innovative in addressing the varying requirements across this diverse state.
Catching up will be extremely difficult but is essential to prosperity on both an individual and a societal level. Almost 80% of students who attend school in Texas will live in the state as adults. They are the workforce of the future in an increasingly technological world. Schools face a daunting task and need resources and support throughout this critical recovery phase and beyond. The importance of education cannot be overemphasized. Stay safe!