Key Takeaways From The 2021-22 Texas STAAR Results

The 2021 – 2022 STAAR results are in, and our main takeaway is Texas surpassed its pre-pandemic reading scores, but still has work to do in mathematics. In this blog, we’ll breakdown those scores and talk through what they mean for state policymakers in the coming session. While there is some good news overall, we cannot forget that even though we have seen score improvement, approximately 50% of Texas students in every tested grade cannot do math on grade level and 40% of students cannot read on grade level.  As you read through this analysis, ask yourself this question: is this good enough for my child?  My child’s school?  

Let’s take the results one core subject at a time, starting with math. 

Middle School Math is the Next Crisis

This year, we have seen some progress in recovering from the pandemic learning losses in mathematics.  Texas math scores in all grades tested improved 5% over last year.  But, this is still 10% behind pre-pandemic levels. This is what we expected.  Nationally, we have seen mathematics scores be more impacted by the pandemic and slower to recover than other subjects. While an increase in scores is good news, there are some alarming trends among older students that need to be addressed by the Legislature in the coming session. 

When the End-of-Course exams were released in mid-June, our team did a deep dive on those results.  Concerning for Algebra I in particular is that scores are down in every demographic since 2019 and remain 16% lower than in 2019.  Taking this with the overall STAAR data that we have from TEA, this means that the mathematics recovery seems to be concentrated in those earlier grades. This leaves our older students, who are quickly headed for post-secondary education and the workforce, with an alarming deficit in mathematics.  

An analysis of cohort data highlights just how concerning this trend is.  Looking at the longitudinal data for current 6th, 7th, and 8th graders over the past three STAAR tests, it’s clear that scores are trending downward in each cohort of students.  The chart below shows this alarming trend: 2022’s 6th graders took the 3rd grade STAAR in 2019, no test in 2020, and the 5th grade STAAR in 2021. With each test administration, this same cohort of children saw performance decline, which raises alarms about our current math intervention strategies. A similar and worrisome trend exists for the 7th graders of 2022. And while 2022’s 8th graders at least saw an increase from last year , they are still far behind their pre-pandemic benchmark.

These are important policy points for legislators in the upcoming session.  Mathematics acceleration will be important, but it may be more important to concentrate mathematics acceleration programs in the later grades.  Thankfully, our state has a statewide assessment system that provides us insight into the mathematics performance of every middle and high school in our state.  We can take that data and figure out which schools are recovering and accelerating their students more quickly than the rest of the state, and we can learn lessons that can help scale successful practices.

Reading Recovery 

Reading is a better story, improving  9% over last year.  More importantly, these are the highest reading scores in Texas since the STAAR examination began in 2012. Even better news is that within this score improvement, we see more students moving toward mastery, with a 4% increase in mastery over 2019 scores and a 7% increase in mastery over 2020.  

There are a few things that could contribute to the faster recovery in reading from a state policy level. Three of the most likely causes are House Bill 3’s reading academies, its related teacher training requirement, and the pandemic recovery reforms of last session.  

Since 2019, the state has invested its time, talent, and treasure to improve reading scores with House Bill 3’s reading academy requirement. This effort has focused on improving current teacher’s ability to teach reading using the most up-to-date practices in the science of teaching reading.  In addition to the reading academies, House Bill 3 required that all new teachers be trained on the science of teaching reading as well.  The initial indications suggest these efforts are having an impact, and  as more teachers are trained in data proven best practices for reading instruction, Texas scores will continue to improve as a result.   

This policy approach is affirmed in the statewide assessment data from Tennessee and Mississippi as well. Tennessee saw solid gains in their 2022 reading scores, and they’ve recently implemented a stronger approach to phonics-based literacy instruction with their Reading 360 plan.  Both Texas and Tennessee have adopted these programs in the wake of Mississippi’s reading reforms that emphasized a strong approach to phonics-based literacy instruction, which was then followed by the largest performance improvement on the NAEP of any state in the country since the current version of the NAEP began in 1992. 

In 2021, the Texas Legislature also focused heavily on supporting districts in recovering from learning losses in HB 1525 and HB4545.  Through accelerated instructions and targeted intervention, school districts were required to provide tutoring to students who were not on grade level. This approach coupled with instructional improvements through the reading academies was likely at least one cause in Texas reading scores improving this year.  

The takeaway 

Despite all the difficulties that came during the pandemic, Texas students are getting back to their pre-pandemic performance levels in reading more quickly than anticipated, while there is still work to be done in mathematics.  These performance improvements themselves have taken a herculean effort by Texas teachers, parents, students, and school leaders. They should be commended for their good work.  

That said, we cannot rest on these results.  There is no grade level in Texas where over 50% of students are doing math on grade level.  So every year, 50% of Texas students are being advanced to the next grade but will need intervention in order to succeed in math.  For reading, there are still around 40% of students in each grade level that cannot read on grade level. 

Ultimately, the salient question with these numbers is not: is this an improvement over the prior year’s performance? But, instead, would this performance be good enough for my own child? If the answer is no, then we all must keep striving for better for all Texas children.

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