Sacrificing Education to Covid-19: The Texas Story

The Covid-19 pandemic and our response to it has certainly generated much discussion and even controversy about the relative weights on public health and economic health.  Perhaps even more important to our nation’s long-term future is the pandemic’s impact on our system of public education.  In terms of how they would operate, our public schools adopted a variety of responses to the pandemic, including how education content and instruction were to be delivered.  A big choice was the decision to engage in remote instruction versus in-person learning.  Smaller but perhaps equally important decisions were made concerning the exact format of the various choices.  Additionally, teachers’ organizations exerted strong pressure on schools to keep schools closed or to preserve remote learning in many locations.  In Texas, school districts were given a large degree of freedom in how to structure the delivery of education services during the pandemic.
 
Texas just released the results of its spring 2021 administration of statewide tests.  These provide an initial look at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Texas students, and some initial assessment of the impact of decisions school districts made with respect to education delivery during the pandemic.
 
The Texas statewide test is the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness or STAAR tests.  These are administered annually in the spring and include a number of subjects including Math in Grades 3-8 and the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam, as well as Reading in Grades 3-8 and the English 1 and English 2 end-of-course exams.  Every student tested is classified as belonging to one of four categories based on test performance:  “Masters” grade level, “Meets” grade level, “Approaches” grade level, or “Did Not Meet” (or DNM) grade level performance. 
 
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) also released its analysis of the 2021 STAAR results.  It is fair to say that these results indicate just how much of an educational disaster we experienced during the 2020-2021 academic year. The STAAR tests were not administered in the 2019-2020 academic year due to the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic in the spring, so the 2021 results are compared to the most recent available administration of the STAAR tests from spring 2019.  As a summary for all students tested, in Math for 2019 there were 21% of students who were classified as “Did Not Meet” passing standards.  While that may seem unacceptably high, in 2021 this number was 37%!  Or, looking at the successful students, students in 2019 who were classified as “Meets” or “Masters” in Math were 50% of those tested.  In 2021, only 35% of those tested met or mastered the Math test.  In 2021, more students were classified as failing than as succeeding!  Furthermore, these statistics do not include those who are classified as “Approaching,” a hopeful descriptor at best, which was 29% in 2019 and 28% in 2021. 

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Reading results were better, but partly because high school student scores actually increased in 2021.  In 2019, 29% of students were classified as “DNM.”  This increased to 33% in 2021.  Looking at successful students, 47% either “Meets” or “Masters” in 2019, while this number fell to 43% in 2021.  Still, these aggregated results for Reading are much better than the results for Math.
 
The above results refer to a combination of grade school and high school test results.  If we just look at Reading results for Grades 3-8, the formative years, students classified as “Meets” or “Masters” were 45% in 2019 and 39% in 2021, a larger decline. 
 
As expected, the results are worse for students classified as economically disadvantaged.  In Reading, while non-economically disadvantaged students classified as “DNM” increased by 3% between 2019 and 2021, economically disadvantaged students classified in this way increased by 9%.  In Math, non-economically disadvantaged students classified as “DNM” standards increased by 6%, while economic disadvantaged students classified in this way increased by a full 20%.
 
The TEA also calculated the percent of students who were educated remotely in 2020-2021, based on averaging a district’s reported remote attendance rates in October 2020 and January 2019.  This allows the STAAR results to be parsed by the percent of remote attendance in a district.  The TEA reported results for districts with fewer than 25% in-person attendance for most of the year, and for districts with more than 75% in-person for most of the year. 
 
The percent of students classified as “DNM” in Reading increased 9% in districts with fewer than 25% in-person, while it only increased 1% for districts with more than 75% in-person.  For Math, the DNM percentage increased an eye-popping 32% for districts with fewer than 25% in-person, while it increased 9% for districts with more than 75% in-person attendance.
 
Finally, the TEA reports results on in-person and economically disadvantaged status.  For economically disadvantaged students, students classified as “DNM” in Reading scores increased 11% in districts with fewer than 25% in-person but increased only 2% for districts with more than 75% in-person attendance.  Economically disadvantaged students classified as “DNM” in Math increased 35% for districts with fewer than 25% in-person but increased 11% for districts with more than 75% in-person attendance.
 
For non-economically disadvantaged students, DNM percentages in Reading increased 6% in districts with fewer than 25% in-person, while increasing only 2% in districts with more than 75% in-person attendance.  For Math, DNM percentages increased 19% in districts with fewer than 25% in-person but increased 6% in districts with more than 75% in-person attendance.

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Students were greatly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and our public health response to the pandemic.  They suffered in measured academic performance, a setback of many years.  While almost all measures indicate a decline in overall student performance, a larger decline occurred in school districts that had less in-person education.  This is important, as all school districts had choices to make over how they delivered educational services to their student body.  It also appears that economically disadvantaged students were particularly harmed by a lack of in-person education. 
 
The academic year 2020-2021 was a big step backward in public school student academic performance in Texas, and undoubtedly the same is true around the nation.  It is too late to change the past, but whatever the claimed benefits of past decisions, it is important to also recognize the cost of those decisions, a cost borne by our future generation of citizens, our children, and grandchildren. 
 
 
Source:
 
https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/staar-2019-to-2021-comparison.pdf
 
https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/2021-staar-analysis-presentation.pdf
 

Posted: July 06, 2021 by Dennis W. Jansen, Andrew J. Rettenmaier