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Students In Austin ISD And Across Texas Performed Worse On STAAR Tests During The Pandemic

Students wearing mask sit at their desks in a classroom.
Michael Minasi
A student sits at his desk at Boone Elementary School in October, the first week AISD schools welcomed children back to the classroom. Data released Monday show students who went back to school during the pandemic performed better on the state assessment, or STAAR test.

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Students in the Austin Independent School District and across Texas who took the state assessment test in the midst of the pandemic did much worse in the examination than they did in 2019, according to results released Monday.

In spring 2021, 60% of students in third through eighth grades passed their STAAR reading test, and 48% passed their math test.

This is a significant drop from spring 2019, the last time students took the test. Then, 73% of third-through-eighth-graders passed their reading test and 74% passed their math test.

District officials hadn't commented on the results as of Monday afternoon, saying they were still reviewing the data.

The drops are reflected statewide. Sixty-seven percent of students in third through eighth grade passed the reading test and 61% passed the math test.

Every year the state gives schools a letter grade, mostly based on STAAR scores. If a school gets an "F" multiple years in a row, state officials can intervene and take over the administration of the school.

But schools and districts will not face consequences this year because of the low test scores. Gov. Greg Abbott waived accountability for this year knowing student learning would likely be affected by the pandemic.

Mike Morath, the Texas Education Agency commissioner, said students who were remote learners throughout the past school year in general performed worse on the test than those students who went back to in-person learning at some point.

“Remote instruction, as opposed to in-person instruction, saw the most significant declines in reading proficiency and mathematics proficiency,” Morath said. “While Texas teachers responded heroically to the remote instruction environment, it was just a difficult environment to teach in and to support students in throughout the course of the school year.”

The test still had a high participation rate — 86% statewide — even though families could have opted out of the examination this year. Ninety-six percent of students took the test in 2019.

Morath said TEA will spend the summer working with school districts to set up systems and practices that will help students catch up on any subjects they didn’t master last school year. Some of the tactics TEA will encourage is pairing students who did poorly on the test with a more experienced teacher to ensure they learn any material they may have missed.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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