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Texas students’ math scores saw a sharp decline during pandemic

 Students learn in Abigail Boyett’s third grade classroom on Nov. 4, 2020, at Lewis Elementary School in San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District.
Alejandra Casas
The Texas Tribune
Students learn in Abigail Boyett’s third grade classroom on Nov. 4, 2020, at Lewis Elementary School in San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District.

State math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress dipped significantly between 2019 and 2022, but reading scores for fourth and eighth graders held steady.

Texas elementary and middle school students saw big drops in math scores during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a national report released Monday.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, an exam given to a sample of fourth and eighth grade public school students every other year, measures how states’ students are performing in reading and math over time compared with a national average. It also provides a national snapshot of the impact of the pandemic on student achievement.

Texas’ math scores on this exam dipped significantly between 2019 and 2022; math scores fell by 7 points for eighth graders and 5 points for fourth graders. The math declines, which follow nationwide trends, bring student achievement down to levels last seen in 2003.

“Math is a set of really scaffolded skills that need consistent reinforcement. When you fall down as a student and don’t master one specific discrete competency or skill, it has the compounding impact,” said Jonathan Feinstein, the Texas director of the Education Trust, a nonprofit focused on promoting academic achievement for students of color and low-income students. “When you think about disruptive learning, especially over the last two to two and a half years, it’s not surprising.”

Reading scores remained mostly unchanged across the board for Texas students, which the Texas Education Agency chief characterized as an indicator that the state is recovering well from the impacts of the pandemic.

“While we are largely recovering from the effects of the pandemic in reading, much work remains in math,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement. In state-by-state comparisons of test scores, Texas ranked 33rd in fourth grade reading, 14th in fourth grade math, 41st in eighth grade reading and 25th in eighth grade math. Texas’ rank improved in fourth and eighth grade reading and in eighth grade math.

White and Asian students in Texas still continue to outperform black and Hispanic students.

The exam, known as the nation’s report card, was given to 450,000 students nationwide, including 23,000 in Texas, from January to March, and is separate from the State Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR test. While STAAR measures how students test when it comes to Texas curriculum requirements, the national exam is the only one given to students in every state.

“The results show the profound toll on student learning during the pandemic, as the size and scope of the declines are the largest ever in mathematics,” said Peggy G. Carr, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. “The results also underscore the importance of instruction and the role of schools in both students’ academic growth and their overall well-being.”

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Sneha Dey| The Texas Tribune