7.1.22 – Dallas Morning News

“Texas students’ STAAR reading results rebound after COVID, math still lags”
By Emily Donaldson and Talia Richman

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Excerpts from this article:

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[COMMENTS FROM DONNA GARNER:  Various groups of Texans periodically get together to rage against STAAR testing.

To them, I always ask the question:

“Okay, you do not want STAAR.  Please tell me what other objective tool do you suggest we use to hold teachers accountable to teach the State Board of Education (SBOE) adopted TEKS (Texas curriculum standards)?

Please tell me what other objective tool than the STAAR do you suggest we use to hold students academically accountable at each grade level?  

The SBOE members are elected by the people and are our voice.  

In Texas the Texas Education Code establishes that the elected members of the SBOE are the people’s voice. 

They are the ones who adopt the TEKS through years of public hearings, teacher/citizen input, etc. 

In any classroom, there can only be one of two philosophies of education. They are called “Type #1 vs. Type #2.”  The two philosophies cannot be mixed any more than oil and water can be mixed.

The Type #1 philosophy is built upon fact-based, objective, academic standards (observable/measurable) and are tested with mostly test questions that have right or wrong answers. 

The Type #2 philosophy is subjective – based upon emotions, feelings, and personal opinions. Type #2 questions are subjectively scored based upon the value system of the graders.

Fortunately for Texas, the English / Language Arts / Reading (ELAR), Social Studies, and Science curriculum standards (TEKS) are largely Type #1 which means the STAAR test questions in those subjects will be either right or wrong based upon the facts.

SIDEBAR:  Unfortunately, the night before the Type #1 Math TEKS were waiting to be adopted by the SBOE (2012), the official TEA copy was secretly stolen.  “Someone” added the Type #2 process standards to the Introductions at each grade level. The end result is that the SBOE (not knowing of the secret changes) voted for the document.  Once the SBOE vote was taken, the Math TEKS were officially entered into the Texas Registry where they must wait to be revised and/or rewritten until the fall of 2025. Hopefully the SBOE will move the Math TEKS into the Type #1 mode so that all of the curriculum standards will be Type #1 instead just part of them.

I personally believe that the reason Texas public school children are struggling with math so much is because the curriculum (built upon the TEKS curriculum standards) contains strains of Type #2 which confuses students.

By law, the STAAR tests must be based upon the SBOE-adopted TEKS. For three subject areas (ELAR, Social Studies, Science), the STAAR test questions follow the Type #1 TEKS. Unfortunately, the Math STAAR test questions are somewhat polluted by Type #2.  


The STAAR shows clearly how much academic proficiency students have gained or lost.

Without an objective tool (i.e., the STAAR), how would parents, students, and educators know how much progress, if any, the students have made? 

Without the STAAR, how would teachers know where the gaps in students’ backgrounds are so that they can provide the proper instruction to fill those gaps? 

Without the STAAR, how would the public know how much academic progress has been lost or gained because of COVID?

Without the STAAR, how would parents know whether their children’s teachers have legitimately been teaching the SBOE-adopted and mandates TEKS?

Our TEKS curriculum standards in Texas do not contain any CRT, LGBTQ, nor other destructive elements.  Neither do our STAAR tests.  Without the STAAR to hold teachers accountable, who knows what type of curriculum would inundate our Texas classrooms?

No, the TEKS are not perfect and neither are the STAAR tests; but at least they serve as a hedge of some protection around our school children which many other states do not have.  


I repeat.“If anyone can show me an objective tool that is better than the STAAR, please step up.  I am certainly open to alternatives.”

To this day, no one has ever been able to show me any better, more objective way to hold both teachers and students accountable than the STAAR.]


Texas students’ reading passing rates on STAAR rebounded to pre-pandemic levels after COVID-19 triggered major losses, but their academic achievement in math still lags.

…“The picture is very strong in reading, and the news is good in math, but we still have a lot of work to do to recover from the impacts of the pandemic in terms of student mathematical knowledge and skills,” education commissioner Mike Morath said.

Across the state, 52% of students met grade-level expectations in elementary and middle school reading exams as well as in English I and II, an improvement of nine percentage points over the previous year.

Morath pointed to state-mandated tutoring for students who failed State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams last year as one of the reasons for the growth.

The Legislature passed a law in 2021 that essentially required 30 hours of extra instruction in subjects where a student failed STAAR.

While many school leaders said it was a difficult and hefty burden to meet, especially as they faced staffing shortages, Morath said the work paid off for those able to carry out the mandate.

“You think about the tutoring work that is happening in particular, and it is having broad-based effects,” he said.

Even before the pandemic, Texas leaders were making a concerted push to improve reading as the state lagged behind most states on nationwide reading assessments over the last decade. The state required certain educators to attend Reading Academies and study the science behind how students learn to decode language.

Morath believes that effort contributed to the growth.

Notably, the percentage of students meeting grade level on reading tests surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

The percentage of elementary and middle school students passing their reading exam was higher than the 2019 rate in all but one grade level. And the percentage of top-performing students who “mastered” the content exceeded pre-pandemic levels in third through eighth grade.

But math results were less promising.

Only 40% of students in grades third through eighth grade – along with those who took Algebra I – met grade-level standards in math. That’s down from prior to the pandemic when half of all students reached that standard. Still, it represented a five-point increase over last year’s tests…

Even though all elementary and middle school passing rates grew from last year’s results, none met or exceeded pre-pandemic levels in the subject.

Notably, students in seventh grade math continued to struggle most with roughly 40% of students failing that exam.

At least one-quarter of students failed the math exam across all elementary and middle grade levels.

The percentage of elementary and middle schoolers excelling in math mostly increased over last year but also did not match levels reached in 2019.

Morath said it is likely the Legislature considers investing in bolstering math education at the same level as reading in the upcoming session.

“We have to be sensitive to how many different things get prioritized just because it’s a large, complex system and you can’t do everything at once,” he said. “But similar-scaled investments in mathematics would likely bear real fruit for us.

Virtual learning also made it more difficult for teachers to diagnose their students’ understanding of math, which they could traditionally analyze by checking over the work kids show on the page.

“Having a conceptual understanding in math is very important,” said Annie Wilhelm, a Southern Methodist University associate professor of math education. “Students missed opportunities to build foundational knowledge and its hard to accelerate that. They’re going to need more time and focused instruction on the big ideas.”

While last year participation in the STAAR exam was a “little light” with just 87% of students sitting for the exams, this year’s rates rebounded with 98% of eligible students taking the STAAR, Morath said.

Most took the exam online as part of a required push for entirely virtual testing in coming years.

…Texas’ 2022 results are still preliminary and could be adjusted in mid-July once school districts have the opportunity to make corrections, agency officials noted.

Gaps remain
Meanwhile, gaps remain for more vulnerable children.

The percentage of students learning English meeting grade level lagged behind peers on reading exams, but rates grew from 20% to 31%. Their math exam rate improved from 20% to 29%.

Students receiving special education services showed more modest improvements. The rate of those meeting grade level on reading exams increased from 12% to 17% and in math from 12% to 13%.

Low-income students also saw growth – the percentage meeting grade level in reading improved from 31% to 41% and in math from 23% to 30%.

More affluent students had much higher achievement rates with 55% meeting grade level on math exams and 67% meeting the standard on reading tests.

Persistent gaps among the achievement of students from different racial groups remained, but all showed similar growth patterns over the last school year…

Pandemic’s impact
STAAR results from 2021 – the first exam given during the pandemic – provided an in-depth look into the havoc COVID-19′s learning disruptions wreaked on students.

Nearly four out of every 10 public school students failed state math exams in 2021, and about one-third of students didn’t pass their reading testsan increase of 16% and 4%, respectively, in failure rates for both subjects over the last year of scores in 2019.

Students still learning from home last year, away from their teachers and classmates, had poorer academic performance than peers, officials said then. That brought down overall rates for the state.

Most Texas students have learned in person over the past academic year and school leaders have tacked on additional instruction time with other strategies to accelerate learning. School districts used billions in federal pandemic aid to extend the school year, provide summer learning and offer tutoring to struggling students.

“There’s no dispute that tutoring and individualized instruction definitely work,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators…

Educators and students have worked hard over the last year to make up gaps, but it isn’t sustainable in the long run, Exter said…

The state has not yet studied which of the many learning recovery strategies employed by districts have been most effective but plan to do so later this year, Morath noted.

Gov. Greg Abbott canceled the STAAR exam in 2020, resulting in a year of missing assessment data. Schools have not received letter grades – which are largely based on state exam scores – since 2019.

In August, the state will award schools and districts letter grades if they scored a C or higher. Schools that would receive a D or F will receive a “not rated,” although their numeric scores will still be public.