While society is beginning to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the hindrance continues to show itself in educational assessments.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently released results for the spring 2021 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Due to what TEA termed “learning disruptions” as result of the pandemic, there was a significant increase in students not meeting expected grade level performance during STAAR testing. Out of 22 testing categories, only two (English I and English II) saw more students meeting grade level requirements than in 2019.
“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,” TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said. “Policymakers are using it to direct resources where they are needed most.”
Refugio Independent School District results are less gloomy than statewide assessments, reporting students exceeded the state average for “approaching” grade level in 11 of 22 testing areas. The district is a special case in the state, taking on a pre-COVID hindrance with Hurricane Harvey cleanup along with the pandemic.
“In light of the many disruptions (RISD) has experienced in the past four years, academic performance is keeping pace with, and in many areas, surpassing other districts across Texas both large and small ... as we continue recovery from Hurricane Harvey and a global pandemic, the district’s STAAR performance indicates that our teachers and students are resilient and committed to learning,” RISD Superintendent Melissa Gonzales said.
STAAR examinations are divided between mathematics assessment, reading assessment, and testing in writing, science and social studies. Assessment scores break down if a student has a “satisfactory achievement,” with those approaching, meeting, or mastering their grade level considered a success.
Mathematics assessments took a major hit in 2021 as compared to 2019, the last time students took STAAR testing. This year’s results show 35% of students meeting the grade level in math from grades 3-8, as compared to 50% two years prior. The largest drops in math performance came from Texas third-graders (48% meeting grade level in 2019 to 30% in 2021), seventh-graders (41% to 25%), eighth-graders (55% to 41%) and third-grade Spanish-speaking students (31% to 14%). Algebra I EOC testing also fell, from 62% meeting grade level in 2019 to 41% in 2021.
Reading assessments weren’t as drastic a dip as math, but still took a hit in 2021. A total of all examinations reports 43% of students meeting grade level, down from 47% in 2019. Notable drops were seen in fourth-graders (43% in 2019 to 36% in 2021) and eighth-graders (53% to 46%); as well as Spanish-speaking student assessments (39% to 24% in third-grade Spanish-speaking testing).
The other three subject matters tested on during STAAR were writing, science, and social studies. These areas of testing also continued the trend of lesser percentage in meeting grade level:
• Writing assessments dropped for fourth-graders (33% meeting grade level in 2019 to 26% in 2021) and seventh-graders (40% to 31%).
• Basic science assessments fell for fifth-graders (48% to 30%) and eighth-graders (49% to 42%).
• Biology assessments meeting grade level dropped from 63% in 2019 to 54% in 2021.
• Social studies assessments meeting grade level for eighth-graders fell from 35% in 2019 to 27% in 2021.
• United States History EOC assessments meeting grade level dropped from 75% in 2019.
The STAAR statewide results, says Morath, “highlight the support infrastructure needed to address lost learning opportunities and emphasize the important role of recently passed legislation.” The piece of legislation broached by Morath was House Bill 4545, which allows parents of eligible STAAR test-takers to “access high performing teachers, as well as benefit from additional tutoring.”
While Gonzales stated RISD will “celebrate the successes” of being ahead of the state level in several areas, she “acknowlege(d) room for growth.”
“District staff has spent considerable time this summer developing plans to address learning gaps,” Gonzales said. “(RISD) remains committed to academic growth and performance.”