San Antonio students in grades 3-8 showed significant recovery in reading and noticeable improvement in math on this year’s state standardized exams, according to preliminary data released Friday by the Texas Education Agency.
Students gained the most ground in reading, based on the test results. Statewide, third through eighth grade students reading at grade level or above increased about 9 percentage points this year compared to 2021, the last time the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams were administered. The standardized exams were canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Texas Education Agency administered the standardized exams last year but did not use the test scores to rate schools and districts on an A-F scale. This is the first year the state will rate campuses and districts based on the test results.
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Thursday that student proficiency in reading had recovered essentially to pre-pandemic levels, touting a new state law that mandated extra tutoring for students and additional training on how to teach reading for K-3 educators.
The state Legislature passed the law, HB 4545, in 2021 that required schools to provide students who failed STAAR exams with accelerated instruction in reading and math, which involves teaching students grade-level material while building up the skills they lack as they need them.
“We are essentially back at a level that we would have expected had COVID-19 never happened in the first place,” Morath said. “It is clear that those state policy efforts are paying real dividends.”
Statewide, students did not close gaps in math skills as much as in reading on the STAAR. Since 2021, the percentage of students who passed the math standardized exams improved to 40% from 35%, according to the TEA.
“In terms of the story of academic recovery, we’ve seen a pretty noticeable jump in mathematics proficiency relative to the dip that occurred as a result of COVID-19,” Morath said. “COVID is a big disruption, but what you see is the largest single-year jump in mathematics proficiency.”
In San Antonio's largest school district, Northside Independent School District, Superintendent Brian Woods said students demonstrated improvement in both reading and math across all grade levels. He added that there is still work to be done to get students back to learning at pre-pandemic levels, especially in math.
“It shows a lot of really hard work by teachers and students and parents to get students caught up and back on track,” he said.
While third grade math scores in NISD improved the most this year, the district saw the highest performance among eighth-grade students on their reading exams. In 2021, 71% of eighth graders passed the reading exam, while 82% passed this year.
Woods said there is still clearly a correlation between students who spent most of the school year not physically in school with those who are struggling on the state exams, and he believes student academic gains would have been greater if attendance rates had more closely resembled pre-pandemic levels. Many school districts saw attendance rates dip to historic lows during the school year largely because of surges in COVID-19.
While Woods acknowledged the efforts of the Legislature to enact policy reforms to help students recover academic performance, he said they are not a "panacea" and that is is premature to say whether laws like HB 4545 have had an impact.
"We really ought to be giving credit where credit's due and it's hard work by teachers and students and their parents," he said. "That's really where the credit needs to go.”
A year into the pandemic, Woods said he assumed it would take students about two years to catch up on reading proficiency and three years to close mathematical skill gaps.
"What we see is that we've caught up to pre-pandemic essentially in reading in one year — so not two but one — and we think that instead of three years for math, we're looking at more like two," he said. "There is still work to be done, but also there has been a lot of progress.”
San Antonio, North East, Judson and South San Antonio ISD administrators were not available for comment Friday. Edgewood and Harlandale ISDs did not respond to requests for comment.