STAAR test scores fall into science and mathematics

State testing data released Friday showed students’ scores in math and science declined as they struggled to catch up after the pandemic.

Texas elementary students who took the Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exam this spring showed a significant decline in science understanding. Only 26% of fifth graders this year met grade-level standards in science, or the concepts that students in that grade are expected to understand, a sharp decline of 21 percentage points from 2019.

In math, Texas students fell behind after two years of modest gains after the pandemic. Some 41% of students showed an adequate understanding of mathematics in their exams, with a decline across all grades compared to last year.

The results also highlight the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning and the long road to recovery that still lies ahead.

“It is clear that math achievement is not where students need to be to be successful after graduation,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said. “The disruption to learning caused by the pandemic has exacerbated the difficulties students face in mastering basic mathematical concepts.”

The STAAR test requires students in grades three through eight to take tests in math and reading. In addition, fifth graders are tested in science and eighth graders are tested in science and social studies.

This year’s report cards provide families with a statewide overview of how Texas schools are performing. School accountability scores — which are based on students’ performance on state standardized tests, graduation rates and efforts to prepare students for careers after high school — were not released last year due to an ongoing court battle.

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Bilingual students

One bright spot in the STAAR data was the gains made by bilingual students, although their scores still lag behind the rest of the state. They exceeded 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, senior policy advisor for Texas 2036, said the state needs to help students improve their scores in math and science so they can find jobs in those fields. Performance on the STAAR test can help predict how a student will do in college and in the workforce, he said.

“We are preparing a generation of students who will struggle to obtain the certificates, degrees and diplomas that the previous generation was able to obtain,” Pruneda said.

Legal issue

In the first legislative session after the pandemic, state lawmakers passed legislation mandating 30 hours of instruction for students who did not pass the STAAR test. Last session, lawmakers reduced the mandate for private lessons to 15 hours to ease pressure on schools facing teacher shortages.

Bills that would have addressed the state’s chronic teacher shortage by allocating money for pay raises and teacher residency programs failed to make it out of session due to a dispute over school vouchers.

In the Houston Independent School District (HISD), one year after the state took over the state’s largest school district, STAAR scores have seen marked improvements. Mike Miles, the district’s state-appointed superintendent, said the developments could help end state interference sooner rather than later.

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The schools that saw the biggest turnaround this year due to the intervention outperformed the rest of the district in making gains in all subjects. Growth in reading and math at the reorganized schools averaged 7 percentage points, compared with 1 percentage point at other campuses, according to HISD data.

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