The rate of Austin ISD students who failed to achieve a passing grade on state learning comprehension tests has seen a noticeable increase over the past two years, according to new results from the Texas Education Agency.

In several cases, the percentage of students who failed to meet their grade-level learning goals doubled from spring 2019 to spring 2021.

The TEA on June 28 released the spring 2021 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness results. These results include tests in reading and mathematics for students in third to eighth grades as well as writing, science and social studies tests for select grades.

At AISD, the percentage of students who did not meet the grade level on the assessments was higher than the state average in many instances.

If a student receives a "Did Not Meet" result, it means the student "doesn’t have enough understanding of the material and did not meet the grade level learning goals," according to the TEA. It is not a passing grade.

AISD performed worse than the state average for “Did Not Meet” grades across the board in mathematics, according to STAAR results. The rate of students in third to eighth grades who failed to reach grade level was higher in every grade compared to the state average.

For seventh-grade mathematics, AISD had 72% of its students receive “Did Not Meet” scores on the STAAR. That represents a 28% increase from the rate in spring 2019. The spring 2021 results are also 26% higher than the state average, per the TEA results.

AISD elementary-age students performed above the state in reading comprehension, according to STAAR results. The percentage of students in third to fifth grades who received a passing grade on reading tests was above the state average.

However, that rate fell among AISD middle school students. AISD students in sixth to eighth grades did not meet grade level on reading tests 45%-46% of the time, all higher than the rate of students statewide.

The school district further tested lower in most grades for writing and science comprehension. Only one grade level—fourth-grade writing—received passing STAAR grades at a higher rate than the state average.

Pandemic impact on students in Texas

According to a June 28 news release from the state agency, the number of students across the state not meeting grade level in 2021 increased across all grade levels and subject areas compared to 2019 with English I and English II being the only exceptions.

During a Texas State Board of Education meeting June 23, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath spoke about the “academic damage” the pandemic has done to the state’s school system. Morath said he expects the final STAAR scores will be released July 5 or 6 but called the preliminary numbers “problematic.”

“What that means is that the name of the game for us for the conceivable future, is how do we modify our systems, across all 1,200 school systems in the state of Texas, to increase the rate at which we accelerate learning,” he said.

One reason students may have done poorly on the STAAR this year, according to Morath, was that they were being “exposed to below-grade-level material all year long,” which students could not control.

He said under new requirements passed by the Texas Legislature this year, districts have to create a written plan for how they will accelerate learning for students who did not meet the grade level in third, fifth and eighth grades.

“For students who are below grade level, that's what we have to do to get them caught up to grade level,” Morath said. “The number of students who are significantly below grade level is far higher this year than we've ever seen it before because of the academic impact of COVID.”

Additional reporting by William Wadsack