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Texas students’ STAAR scores decline in math and science


Texas students’ STAAR scores decline in math and science

Jun 14, 2024 | 1:47 pm ET
By Sneha Dey Yuriko Schumacher
Texas students’ STAAR scores decline in math and science
Texas elementary and middle school students' STAAR scores dropped in math and science, data released Friday shows. The latest results highlight the challenges to recover from the pandemic's disruption on students' learning. (Pu Ying Huang for The Texas Tribune)

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State testing data released Friday shows students’ math and science scores slipped as they struggle to catch up after the pandemic.

Texas elementary students who took the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exam this spring saw striking drops in science comprehension. Only 26% of fifth graders this year met science grade-level standards, or concepts students in that grade are expected to understand, a steep decline of 21 percentage points from 2019.

In math, Texas students lost ground after two years of modest post-pandemic gains. About 41% of students demonstrated an adequate understanding of math on their tests, with declines across grades compared to last year.

The results further illustrate the toll the COVID-19 pandemic exacted on student learning and the long road toward recovery still ahead.

“It’s clear that math performance is not where students need it to be for success after graduation,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “Pandemic-induced disruptions to learning exacerbated students’ difficulties in mastering fundamental math concepts.”

The STAAR exam requires students from third through eighth grade to test in math and reading. In addition, fifth-graders are tested in science and eighth-graders in science and social studies.

This year’s test scores provide families a statewide snapshot into how Texas schools are performing. School accountability ratings — which are based on students’ performance on the state's standardized tests, graduation rates and efforts to prepare kids for careers after high school — were not released last year due to an ongoing court battle.

A bright spot in the STAAR test data was the gains bilingual students made, though their scores still lag behind the rest of the state. They surpassed pre-pandemic levels in reading and social studies by 12 and 6 percentage points, respectively. Bilingual students made more progress in narrowing the gap between their pre- and post-pandemic performance in math and science, compared to their peers.

Mary Lynn Pruneda, a senior policy advisor at Texas 2036, said the state needs to help students improve their math and science scores so they can find jobs in those fields. Performance on the STAAR test can help predict how a student will fare in college and the workforce, she said.

“We are setting up a generation of students to struggle to attain the certifications and degrees and diplomas that the generation before them was able to achieve,” Pruneda said.

In the first legislative session after the pandemic, state lawmakers passed legislation mandating 30 hours of tutoring for students did not pass the STAAR test. Lawmakers last session cut the tutoring mandate down to 15 hours to alleviate pressure on schools facing teacher shortages.

Bills that would have addressed the state’s chronic teacher shortage by setting aside money for teacher raises and residency programs did not make it out of session because of the fight over school vouchers.

In Houston ISD, a year into the state’s takeover of the state’s largest school district, STAAR scores saw notable improvements. Mike Miles, the district’s state-appointed superintendent, said the gains might help end the state’s intervention sooner than later.

The schools that saw the biggest overhaul this year because of the takeover outpaced the rest of the district in gains in performance across subjects. The average growth in reading and math at the overhauled schools was 7 percentage points, compared to 1 percentage point at other campuses, according to Houston ISD data.

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