AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Education Agency released results from the latest statewide standardized exams, with lower scores revealing the toll of the pandemic on students across the state. In particular, the agency’s demographic data pointed to widening academic gaps and disparities among students of color and economically disadvantaged students.

Across most grade levels and subject matters, the number of students not meeting their grade level increased from 2019 to 2021. The TEA data points out that school districts with more remote learners this past year scored lower than districts with higher counts of in-person students.

The TEA report also evaluated students’ race and socioeconomic status in relation to their scores. According to the STAAR data for economically disadvantaged kids, there was a 6% decline in the number of kids who scored close to, at or above their grade level in Reading in 2021, compared with 2019 scores. Among their non-economically disadvantaged peers, there was a only 3% drop.

The disparity was even more clear in the Math scores: there was a 20% decline in the number of kids who scored close to, at or above their grade level in 2021, compared with 2019. Among non-economically disadvantaged students, there was a only 9% drop.

The TEA STAAR data features stacked bar graphs to depict students with satisfactory performance (i.e. approaches grade level in purple, meets grade level in blue, or masters grade level in green) in reading or math. The graph also features data for students that did not meet their grade level, in red. The bolded figures represent the percentage point change from 2019 to 2021, of satisfactory scores.

The number of African American and Hispanic students scoring close to, at or above their grade level in both Math and Reading decreased at a higher rate than White students, as well — especially at schools with the majority of children learning virtually.

Community activist and former Austin ISD Trustee Paul Saldaña said he’s not surprised, based on the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on minority communities.

“If you look at the data, we represented the majority of the cases, the highest positivity rates, and unfortunately the highest amount of deaths,” he explained

He said that was why many people of color opted to keep their children at home, in spite of other challenges that decision brought, such as access to WiFi and high-speed internet or academic support systems.

  • To read the full TEA report on STAAR results, click here.

“Unfortunately, sometimes kids were left at home because mom or dad or both of them had to work,” he said.

Saldaña also emphasized the significant portion of Austin ISD kids who fall into the “economically disadvantaged” group.

Saldaña is calling on Texas school districts to provide more wrap-around services for these kids, such as before or after-school and tutoring programs.

Due to the passage of House Bill 4545 at the legislative session this year, any student who didn’t meet their grade level requirements will receive tailored tutoring to get them up to speed. Districts are required to provide it from their most qualified teachers, and the TEA said it will work with districts to provide robust instructional materials and additional teacher support.

“How is equity going to drive these decisions?” he asked. “There’s a perception that our black and brown kids are not capable of being successful in academic achievement and that’s just not true. We can no longer settle for the status quo.”

Cuitlahuac Guerra-Mojarro, an AISD parent and teacher, told KXAN he’s not surprised his fifth-grader was nervous about the math section in the state standardized test, after spending the majority of the year learning virtually.

“He usually does really well with the reading and the writing, and struggles with the math test,” he said.

Still, Guerra-Mojarro isn’t worried. In fact, he knows it’s a growing opportunity for his son.

“The point of learning isn’t to score well on a test. The point of learning is to grow,” he said.