Student readiness: What assessments tell us

Texas 2036 and the George W. Bush Institute explore student career readiness and its impacts on Texas’ future prosperity in their report “The State of Readiness: Are Texas students prepared for life after high school?” Here is a preview about assessments (read part I and part II).

What data tells us about student readiness 

Texas evaluates whether or not students are on grade level each year in third- through eighth-grade and five times in high school using a standardized assessment called the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR).  The STAAR exams measure students’ knowledge on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the state’s academic standards. These standards are defined by the Texas State Board of Education in consultation with Texas educators, business leaders, and policymakers from across the state. 

STAAR test questions are written every year by the Texas Education Agency in consultation with a diverse team of Texas teachers. A team of 16-20 educators reviews each question, making sure it measures a Texas academic standard for that grade in a fair and appropriate way. Each year, Texas teachers spend around 3,000 hours reviewing the exam. After each exam, the questions are released, allowing parents and the public to review test materials.

The STAAR provides insight into performance across grades and subject areas over time. Importantly, the STAAR exam is benchmarked against post-secondary readiness standards. Success on the STAAR exam indicates whether a student is academically prepared for life after high school, underscoring its importance in understanding Texas’ state of readiness.

Insights from 2022 STAAR math scores

Prior to 2020, Texas’ STAAR math performance was low but increasing on a year-over-year basis. Learning loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic erased all of this increase. After this decline:

While some Texas students have seen their math scores begin to recover, middle schoolers continue to see year-over-year declines.

  • Only 38% of eighth-graders were on grade level in 2022, leaving over 260,000 eighth-graders behind with only four years to catch up before entering college or the workforce. 
  • While other grades saw score improvements, 2022’s sixth- and seventh-graders have experienced sustained year-over-year declines.

Insights from 2022 STAAR reading scores

Texas reading scores saw relatively steady increases on a year-over-year basis from 2012 to 2019.  While the pandemic set reading scores back to 2017 levels, students have recovered more than in math. Nearly half of Texas students cannot read on grade level, but the trend line is moving in the right direction. 

Today, over 50% of Texas students are on grade level in reading for the first time since the STAAR was administered in 2012. While this news is encouraging, over 1.5 million third through tenth-grade students are still not at grade level in reading.

Despite these disconcerting trends, there has been a 4% increase in students scoring masters grade level in reading since 2019. A welcome sign of progress.

Texas’ performance on the Nation’s Report Card

Data available from STAAR tests indicate that too many Texas students are not achieving competency in math and reading. The Nation’s Report Card (also known as NAEP), administered to samples of students in every state, allows comparisons across states.  Recent NAEP scores confirm what the dropping STAAR scores suggest –  far too many Texas students are falling behind their peers in other states.

  • Texas students lose a substantial amount of math proficiency between 4th and 8th grade. While nationally the percentage of students proficient in math drops between the 4th and 8th grade as shown in the figure below, Texas has only recently experienced substantial losses in proficiency for its students in math. For example, as fourth-graders, 
  • 44% of the graduating class of 2023 was proficient in math. But only 30% of that same cohort of students tested at or above proficient in the eighth-grade – a 14 percentage-point drop. This change in proficiency was the largest decrease of any state in the nation. In comparison to the drops in proficiency for Texas cohorts shown below, the average drop nationally for the same cohorts was never more than 8%.    
  • Texas ranks in the top half of the country on reading when you look at individual student groups, yet only 30% of Texas fourth-graders and 23% of eighth graders are proficient. While much of the country struggled with reading score improvement during the pandemic, Texas managed to hold performance relatively steady, resulting in an increased ranking for Texas relative to other states.  Texas’ eighth grade black and English learning (EL) students also showed statistically significant growth in 2022.  While these are bright spots, there is still significant work to do.  Texas cannot rest on relative rankings alone. Texas is ranked first in the nation for English Language learner reading proficiency with only 10% of English-learning eighth graders actually proficient in reading. 
  • Texas scores have been declining for almost a decade. Texas scores on eighth-grade reading and math peaked in the early 2010s, and they have been consistently declining since that time (see charts below).  Every 10 points on the NAEP equates to roughly one grade level. Since the early 2010s, Texas has lost almost one full grade level of learning in reading and almost two grade levels of learning in math among eighth-graders. 

Read more about the report: