North Houston Early College High School math teacher Andre Shackelford, pictured in February, leads a class at his Houston ISD campus. High school students across Texas scored significantly lower this year on state standardized math tests, with Black, Hispanic and lower-income students falling the farthest behind. Texas’ first trove […]
Texas’ first trove of 2021 state standardized test scores offers early confirmation of what many educators feared: students fell dramatically behind in math amid the pandemic.
Results from spring algebra tests given to Texas high school students show a major decline in performance compared to 2019, particularly among Black, Hispanic and lower-income students.
By contrast, performance on high school English tests slightly dipped this year, mirroring nationwide studies suggesting that students’ reading skills continued to develop — albeit slower — throughout the pandemic.
Taken together, the scores offer one of the state’s earliest looks at the academic fallout from the pandemic, which upended education across Texas and pushed millions of children into online-only classes for varying lengths of time.
The data only includes performance of state End of Course exams that high school students must pass before graduating, with limited exceptions. State officials are expected later this month to release scores for students in grades 3 through 8 on the tests, known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR.
While the high school results allow for drawing broad conclusions, the data does not offer a precise apples-to-apples comparison between scores from 2019 and 2021. The tests were not given in 2020.
Making such comparisons are difficult, for several reasons. For example, many more struggling students re-took End of Course exams in 2019 than 2021, likely skewing the results from 2019 lower. In addition, a small fraction of teens taking virtual-only classes this spring opted out of the tests, which could impact average scores in 2021.
Still, the End of Course results offer an imperfect, but useful, window into student achievement. Looking only at first-time test takers in 2019 and 2021, an approach that offers a more accurate comparison between years, the results show:
The share of Texas students who passed the primary math test, Algebra I fell from 88 percent to 74 percent. More concerning, the share of students who scored on grade level dropped from 66 percent to 42 percent. Texas students can pass the exam but fall short of performing at grade level.
Scores on the two reading tests, English I and English II, held more steady. Passage rates on the English I exam slipped slightly (from 74 percent to 71 percent), as did rates of scoring on grade level (from 60 percent to 55 percent). Scores on English II, which fewer high schoolers take, essentially were unchanged.
Student demographic groups that historically have performed worse on the exams saw their scores drop the most. The share of Texas students scoring on grade level in Algebra I fell dramatically among Black students (from 53 percent to 28 percent), Hispanic students (from 64 percent to 34 percent) and students considered “economically disadvantaged” by the state (59 percent to 31 percent).
The demographic trends showed up in Houston. Five of the region’s largest districts serving predominantly non-white and lower-income students saw big drops in their share of students on grade level in Algebra I: Alief ISD (down 33 percentage points), Aldine ISD (down 31 percentage points), Houston ISD (down 28 percentage points), Pasadena ISD (down 26 percentage points) and Fort Bend ISD (down 25 percentage points). More affluent districts saw declines of 15 percentage points or less, including Conroe, Katy and Humble ISDs.
Education leaders across the state remain in the early stages of planning for how to help students emerge from the pandemic. Local districts will receive billions of dollars in federal stimulus money aimed at supporting children, with a larger share of funds going to districts with more students from lower-income families.