On top of maneuvering through life and school safely during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, thousands of local public school students, teachers, and administrators masked up to engage in in-person standardized testing this past spring. Now, the results are in.
A look at the scores of Copperas Cove Independent School District, Killeen Independent School District and the state show evidence of pandemic-related learning loss across most subjects and grade levels.
The state’s highest authority in public education, the Texas Education Agency, encouraged students to take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, this spring to provide a snapshot of how students are faring during the pandemic, while some opponents saw the test as an unnecessary evil during an already troubled time for students and educators.
The pandemic caused a few changes to traditional STAAR testing. Last year, the state canceled all April, May and July administrations of the STAAR test at the onset of the pandemic in March. Earlier this year, the state announced it would pause A-F accountability ratings, which are largely based on STAAR testing, for the 2020-21 school year. Students learning remotely this spring were not required to return to campus to take the STAAR. STAAR testing will also not affect a student’s ability to move on to the next grade this year, as it has in years past.
The STAAR tests results, released Monday, show a decline in the number of students passing core subject exams statewide, across all grade levels, in comparison to pre-pandemic scores.
“The data may be disheartening, but with it, our teachers and school leaders are building action plans to support students in the new school year,” Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath said in a news release Monday.
Copperas Cove ISD Director of Assessment and Accountability Lauren Hammett said in a news release Tuesday students took the STAAR test this spring to identify gaps in learning and to help school leaders and teachers create plans for students to recover from the disruptions to learning caused by COVID-19.
“CCISD is proud of our student performance on STAAR this year,” Hammett said. “CCISD’s focus for the 2021-2022 school year will be to address individual student learning loss. Seventh grade math, English I, and Algebra I will also be subject areas of focus.”
Killeen ISD spokeswoman Taina Maya issued the following about Monday’s STAAR results, “We are taking time to properly assess and address possible learning deficiencies in response to COVID-19 and Winter Storm Uri.”
“It is difficult to gauge student progress, or lack thereof, without having students in our classrooms for the entire school year,” she added.
Not all third through eighth graders take the same subject exams in Texas. All students grades three through eighth are tested in reading and mathematics. Fourth and seventh grade students are also subject to a writing exam, while fifth and eighth grade students must take a science exam. Eighth-grade students statewide are also tested in social studies. High school students must take and pass end-of-course (EOC) exams in Algebra I, English I, English II, Biology, and U.S. History in order to graduate in Texas.
TEA’s STAAR grading system consists of “Did not meet,” “Approaches grade level (or above),” “Meets grade level,” and “Master grade level.” “Did not meet” means a student did not pass that particular test, while “approaches” “meets” and “masters” means the student passed the subject matter. For the purpose of analysis, the Herald compared how many students passed, “Approaches,” to how many students did not pass, “Did not meet,” in the tested subject areas.
Here’s a look at how the Killeen Independent School District, Copperas Cove Independent School District and the state matched up on the spring STAAR, according to test results from TEA.
Across the state, about 32% of public school students, grades three through eighth, did not pass the spring 2021 STAAR reading exam. Of those students tested statewide, about 67% of Texas’ third through eighth-graders passed the reading exam.
Copperas Cove ISD third through eighth-graders passing rate fell 3% to 8% above the state’s average, depending on the grade. CCISD fourth-graders beat the state’s passing rate by 7%.
KISD students failed the STAAR reading exam at a 1-5% higher rate than their peers statewide, depending on the grade.
When comparing 2019 state and local spring STAAR scores to 2021’s scores, both the state and KISD’s reading passing rate declined between 1 to 11 percentage points in each grade tested in the subject. In CCISD, when comparing 2019 STAAR reading passing rate to 2021 results, third grade saw an 8% drop, and fourth grade declined 2%, while the remaining grades’ passing rates were unchanged from the prior year’s scores.
CCISD and KISD fifth-graders outperformed the state in mathematics this spring, according to TEA results.
In Cove, all grades three through eighth, with the exception of seventh, beat the state’s passing average in mathematics by 2 to 12 percentage points. CCISD seventh-graders were 12 percentage points behind the state’s passing average in the subject.
KISD students fell slightly above or below the state’s passing rate on the mathematics exam. Fourth- and sixth- through eighth-grade students passed at a rate 1 to 2 percentage points below the state passing average, while third graders matched the state passing rate and fifth graders beat the state passing average by 2 percentage points.
Looking at 2019 STAAR scores in comparison to 2021, the state, KISD and CCISD saw their mathematics passing rate decline by double digits in some cases — between 3 and 31 percentage points – meaning more students failed the STAAR math exam in 2021 than did pre-pandemic. In CCISD, the seventh-grade math passing rate dropped by 31% from 2019 to 2020.
KISD’s writing exam passing rate was 3 percentage points less than the state average in fourth grade and 1% less in seventh grade. Fifty percent of KISD fourth-graders and 40% percent of KISD seventh-grade students did not pass the spring 2021 STAAR writing exam. CCISD fourth graders passed at a 3% higher rate than the statewide average, while CCISD seventh-grade students passed at a rate 3% lower rate than the state average.
When comparing 2021 writing results to 2019, the state’s number of students who passed the writing exam dropped 12% in fourth grade and 8% in seventh grade in 2021. Similarly, KISD saw a 9% decline in the fourth graders’ writing passing rate and a 1% decline in the number of seventh graders who passed the exam when comparing 2019 scores to 2021. Cove saw a 4% gain in its fourth grade writing passing rate when comparing the same time periods, while its seventh-grade writing passing rate decline by 3%.
The state’s 2021 STAAR science passing rate was 12% to 13% lower than those tested in 2019, before the pandemic.
Fifth- and eighth-grade students statewide are subject to taking the STAAR science test.
CCISD fifth and eighth graders surpassed the 2021 state passing rate by 6 to 9 percentage points, while KISD fifth and eighth graders fell 4 to 3 percentage points behind the state average passing rate in the subject.
When comparing 2019 scores to 2021, KISD’s science passing rate dropped by 8% in fifth grade and 10% in eighth grade. Similarly, CCISD’s science passing rate dropped by 5% in fifth grade and 9% in eighth grade when comparing 2019 pre-pandemic scores to 2021.
Forty-four percent of eighth-grade students statewide did not pass the spring STAAR social studies exam.
Locally, CCISD eighth-graders passed the 2021 social studies exam at an 8% higher rate than their peers statewide, while KISD eighth-graders passed at a rate 3% below the statewide average.
When comparing the passing rate to pre-pandemic scores, the state’s passing average declined 11% from 2019 to 2021 in social studies, while KISD’s social studies passing rate declined 6% and CCISD saw a 1% decline during the same time period.
Statewide, and locally, school districts saw their best end-of-course passing rates to be in U.S. History.
Ninety percent of KISD and CCISD students passed the U.S. History EOC exam – two percent better than the statewide passing average.
The exam with the lowest passing rate statewide was English I. About 66% of students statewide passed the English 1 exam – a 3 percent increase from the state’s previous 2019 passing rate. Killeen ISD students passed the English I EOC with a 71% passing rate, beating the state’s average, while CCISD fell short with 61% of students passing the exam – 5% below the state’s average.