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STAAR test results show Austin ISD students still struggle with math post-pandemic

Students wear masks at their desks on the first day of school at Travis High School  in Austin in 2021
Jordan Vonderhaar
KUT News
STAAR results from spring 2024 show Austin ISD students are still struggling to make up ground in math proficiency following the pandemic.

School may be out for summer, but the results of the 2024 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness are in — and show students in Texas and Austin continue to struggle with math.

The Texas Education Agency released the STAAR results for students in Grades 3-8 on Friday, one week after releasing the end-of-course assessment results for high schoolers. Depending on which grade they’re in, students are tested on subjects such as math, reading, science and U.S. history.

2024 scores for kids in elementary, middle and high school continue to follow a familiar, post-pandemic trend. While the percentage of Texas students meeting grade level in reading has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels — and actually exceeds it — math proficiency has still not recovered.

Locally, the Austin Independent School District is seeing a similar trend play out among its students.

"We certainly recognize that the pandemic created this gap that we’re trying to close desperately," Austin ISD Superintendent Matias Segura said of the district's math scores.

However, Segura said that while STAAR results are a helpful piece of data that allows Austin ISD to compare itself to other districts, it is not the only piece of information people should look at when evaluating how students are doing.

“When you distill down a student’s potential into one score, I think it’s not telling the whole picture,” he said. “I tell families all the time, look at the school, look at the vibrancy of the school.”

Austin ISD students still lagging in math

The gap between math proficiency before the pandemic and after it, persists throughout elementary, middle and high school within Austin ISD. Take, for example, results at the high school level. Back in 2019, before the pandemic, 69% of the district's students who took the Algebra I STAAR end-of-course exam met grade level. This year, only 39% of the nearly 6,000 students who took the test met grade level.

A similar trend is evident for students in grades 3-8 when it comes to math. Available data for grades 3, 4, 6, and 7 show that the percentage of students who met grade level on the STAAR math exam was higher in 2019 than it was in 2024.

Charles Martinez, dean of the College of Education at UT Austin, said it’s not surprising that students are struggling to catch up in math after the pandemic significantly disrupted their education. He said math, in particular, builds on concepts kids have learned in previous years.

“In other words, you can’t move on in mathematical computational ability, mathematical reasoning — the core skills that undergird math — without some mastery of the skills that are behind you,” he said.

Martinez said, in general, the systems we have in place aren’t very good at helping kids catch up. He said if a student is behind in a subject, they’ve got to essentially start learning at a faster rate than their peers just to catch up, and that requires a lot of support and expert teaching.

Austin ISD Superintendent Segura said providing support for students and getting experienced teachers into classrooms takes money.

“Education has just gotten more expensive period. And at the same time we have these gaps that we have to address, and the way that you address them is by intervention, and those interventions require resources,” he said. “So we are doing what we can. I think we’re doing a really great job, but long term additional resources would always be helpful.”

Kevin Brown, the executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators, said this year’s STAAR scores cannot be divorced from the fact that many school districts are facing budget deficits and staffing challenges. He and other public school leaders point to the fact that the basic allotment, which is the minimum amount the state must spend per student, has not keep up with inflation over the last four years. Austin ISD, for its part, is facing a roughly $60 million budget deficit.

“There’s not just one silver bullet that will raise test scores, but it’s all of these things put together: it’s funding, it’s supporting our educators through words and through actions, it’s providing our schools resources to help our students as best they can,” Brown said. “We’re about 43rd, 44th [out of 50] in the country in what we’re spending per student and that needs to change.”

But education policy expert Mary Lynn Pruneda worries that lackluster STAAR results are going to be overshadowed by concerns about school funding. Pruneda is a senior policy adviser for public education issues for the Austin-based think tank Texas 2036. She previously served as Gov. Greg Abbott’s education policy adviser.

“We want to have a conversation about funding our public schools more. We want there to be more money in public education. We’re desperate to pay our teachers more, but just to pin everything on that…would just be half the conversation,” she said.

Why is reading getting better but math and science are not?

Pruneda also pointed out that the 2024 STAAR results show something is clearly going right when it comes to teaching kids how to read. She said not only have reading scores stabilized since the pandemic, but they have actually improved. That is evident, for example, in how Austin ISD high schoolers performed on the STAAR English I and English II exams this year.

The percentage of students doing well on the English I exam has remained relatively stable for the last five years, with 53% meeting grade level in 2019 and 52% meeting grade level in 2024. The percentage of students meeting grade level on English II is now at 58%, two points higher than it was in 2019.

Pruneda said she thinks reading has rebounded because there’s been a lot of attention paid and legislation to support getting evidenced-based strategies to improve literacy into classrooms.

“So the question for us is how do we do that again? How do we do that across science, across math and across social studies? It’s hard work, it’s important work, but it’s work that we have to engage in [during the 89th legislative session],” she said. “We have to come up with systems and programs and investments and strategies that actually are targeting these outcome deficits we’re seeing in our students.”

The percentage of Texas fifth and eighth graders meeting grade level in science also dropped this year. Only 26% of fifth graders met grade level in science, down from 34% in 2023. That figure was 47% before the pandemic in 2019.

Aiming higher than pre-pandemic scores

Gabe Grantham, another policy adviser at Texas 2036, said he would like to see goals for student achievement go beyond just getting kids to where they were before the pandemic.

“I think what we have to do as a state is really grapple with what does that mean for the kids who would still be left behind even if, as a state, we got back to exactly where we were in 2019 — we’re still leaving half of our kids behind in mathematics,” he said. “So I think that as a state we can dream a little bit bigger than just pre-pandemic in terms of student achievement and student outcomes.”

Grantham said it is also alarming that the percentage of Texas students in grades 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 who met grade level on the math exam actually dropped this year.

“We see actually since the pandemic, the first true decline in [math] proficiency across the state, which I think should raise alarms for every person watching both at the state and local level,” he said. “To say that recovery has slowed is an understatement.”

Martinez, of UT's College of Education, also underscored the importance of improving student performance in math because it’s a major indicator of how students are going to do after high school.

“Math course-taking, among all the things that students do, is maybe among the most essential predictors of post-secondary access and success,” he said.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath also highlighted the urgent need to improve math proficiency statewide.

“While we continue to see progress in other areas - which is a testament to the dedication and skill of our Texas educators - it’s clear that math performance is not where students need it to be for success after graduation,” Morath said in a statement.

Families can find their child’s STAAR results at

Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
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