More Texas students are not meeting grade level than they were two years ago, according to results of the 2021 STAAR test released Monday by the Texas Education Agency.
The 2021 STAAR tests were compared to test results pre-pandemic in 2019.
The agency said the declines were seen across all subjects with English I and English II being the only exceptions. The greatest declines were seen in math.
The TEA said districts with more virtual learners suffered greater declines than those with higher in-person instruction.
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Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner said the results were what he and other educators expected, and while a test does not provide a full picture, it does give a baseline for where the district needs to go.
"We knew that remote learners would be the most affected, particularly those coming from low-income households," Scribner said. "We know that the best place for our students is in the classroom, learning in person."
Scribner said the district was focused on academic recovery, but also supporting students with their social and emotional learning.
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Fifteen thousand Fort Worth students are enrolled in the district's summer school program. That's three times the amount of past summers, Scribner said.
The district also plans to hold after-school programs and Saturday classes for students that need them in the fall.
Dallas ISD Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova said test scores showed a three-year regression for students across the district.
"Obviously, it's a big disappointment to see that several years of academic gains have been interrupted by the pandemic," Cordova said.
She said it would take time but believes the district can regain lost ground by setting teachers up for success with smaller class sizes, increased tutoring opportunities and extended school days, not just for academics, but also extracurricular activities many students missed out on last year.
Parent Jaime Wynn has four children with her two oldest enrolled in Azle ISD. Like many families, she said they were just focused on surviving a year of virtual learning and pandemic stress.
"Everyone achieved, everyone was successful regardless of that STAAR test," Wynn said.
Wynn said instead of focusing on results from standardized testing during the pandemic, the TEA should be focused on what families, educators and students achieved.
"Did we really need to point out that people failed a standardized test in the midst of what our world is going through right now?" Wynn asked. "I say this every year – with or without the pandemic – children are more than scores."
The Texas State Teachers Association said while online learning was necessary to save lives during the pandemic, the latest STAAR testing reveals it doesn't work.
"You can't replace a teacher in a classroom with a computer screen at home," vice president of the TSTA Linda Estrada said.
The STAAR testing results include exams in mathematics and reading for grades three through eight, fourth and seventh grade writing, fifth and eighth grade science, eighth grade social studies, and high school end-of-course exams in Algebra I, English I, English II, Biology and U.S. History.
The TEA said districts with a higher percentage of students learning virtually experienced a greater degree of declines, while those with the highest percentage of in-person learners largely avoided any learning declines in reading.
Districts in which 25% or less of students learned virtually for most of the year saw a 9% drop in satisfactory performance in mathematics from 2019 to 2021, while districts in which 75% or more of students were learning virtually, which saw a drop of 32%, the TEA said.
"From early on, Texas prioritized the availability of in-person instruction during this tremendously difficult year," Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said. "When students come into Texas public schools, they are well-served by Texas educators-a fact that these scores confirm. But it is also painfully clear that the pandemic had a very negative impact on learning. I shudder to consider the long-term impact on children in states that restricted in-person instruction."
It's a trend that was seen in many rural districts where COVID-19 cases remained lower and students returned to the classroom more quickly like in Erath County's Dublin ISD.
There, after connectivity issues proved to be a problem at the start of the school year, Superintendent Melissa Summers said all but their most medically fragile students were back by the second six weeks.
Though scores dipped slightly from the year before, they remained well over state averages across all grade levels.
"This is a huge takeaway that you can't replace a teacher with a device. You can't replace a teacher with a program. A teacher is a key factor in a student's success," Summers said.
According to the TEA, the results highlight the support infrastructure needed to address lost learning opportunities and emphasize the important role of recently passed legislation, including House Bill 4545, in providing Texas educators the resources, tools and funding necessary to dramatically accelerate student learning.
The TEA said it would also work with school systems this summer and in the coming school years to bolster its efforts to accelerate learning by providing instructional materials, teacher support, targeted tutoring and help to expand learning time.
"Now, we have full assessment results in hand for nearly all Texas students," Morath said. "The data may be disheartening, but with it, our teachers and school leaders are building action plans to support students in the new school year. Policymakers are using it to direct resources where they are needed most."
This year, 85% of eligible students participated in grades three through eight STAAR assessments, as compared to 96% in 2019.
In high school, 92% of eligible students participated in EOC assessments, as compared to 97% in 2019.
Overall, STAAR participation in spring 2021 was 87%. Of those eligible students who did not participate in the assessment, there was a slightly higher concentration of economically disadvantaged students than of participating students.
To view STAAR state-level reports, visit the Texas Education Agency website.