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Standardized Math Scores Drop In San Antonio Following Pandemic

Students return to school in Philadelphia
A student holds a pencil after returning to school as coronavirus restrictions are lifted in Philadelphia on March 8, 2021.

Students in the San Antonio region and across the state saw a big drop in their math STAAR tests this spring, following a year of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results of the spring 2021 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness released Monday by the Texas Education Agency showed moderate declines in reading and steep declines in math compared to the last time the standardized tests were administered in spring 2019.

According to Education Commissioner Mike Morath, 87% of eligible students took the STAAR tests this year, even though virtual learners were only given the tests if they came to campus the day the tests were administered. Around 96% of eligible students take the STAAR tests in a normal year.

“This allows for fairly effective comparisons year to year on performance,” Morath said, adding that results might be slightly skewed by the fact that low-income students were a little more likely to have avoided coming onto campus to take the tests.

“But we think, at the scale of the size of Texas, these numbers are all very accurate in terms of the conclusions one would draw,” he said.

In 2019, 75% of 3rd graders in Region 20 earned satisfactory scores in math indicating that they at least approach grade level. That dropped to 56% in 2021.

Region 20 includes Bexar County and 17 surrounding counties, including much of the Hill Country and the San Antonio Metro Area. Region 20 also stretches west to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Region 20 students in 4-8th grade saw similar declines in math, resulting in a 63-124% increase in the percent of students who didn’t pass, depending on the grade.

In spring 2019, 58% of the high school students in Region 20 who took the Algebra I End of Course exam met grade level; 33% did in 2021.

Math scores both in Region 20 and statewide saw double-digit declines in the passing rate. Morath attributed much of the decline to difficulties with virtual learning.

“What we know now with certainty is that the decision in Texas to prioritize in-person instruction was critical. Where we saw very high rates of in-person instruction, we saw almost no reading declines.” Morath said. “In fact, in some cases, we saw proficiency improvements in reading.”

In 2019, 72% of 3rd graders in Region 20 earned satisfactory scores in reading, indicating that they at least approached grade level. That dropped to 64% in 2021. About 68% passed statewide in 2021.

Region 20 students in 4-8th grade saw similar moderate declines in reading, resulting in a 17-29% increase in the percent of students who didn’t pass, depending on the grade.

The high school English I passing rate stayed about the same in both Region 20 and the state from 2019 to 2021.

While students in low-income urban districts were more likely to avoid in-person instruction, Morath said virtual learning had a greater influence on scores than income.

“The difference between those students from low-income families and those students from non-low-income families was noticeable, but not necessarily extraordinarily significant,” Morath said. “There were declines both with the haves and have nots, as it were. Coronavirus affected everyone in Texas.”

STAAR scores for individual districts can be found on TEA’s Texas Assessment Analytic Portal.

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