Data

Our Back-to-School Data, And What We Do About It

by Todd Williams

1 December 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted public education in the state of Texas, with the abrupt end of in-person schooling last spring shining a harsh light on our state’s digital divide. Now, in the midst of a deadly resurgence, district leaders are once again being forced to consider closing their doors. At the same time, newly available data paints a clear picture of the consequences of our previous round of closures– and what we should prioritize in our policies moving forward.

The Commit Partnership was given the opportunity to collaborate with the national assessment organization NWEA to analyze MAP Growth assessment data from the beginning of the 2019 and 2020 school years for all Texas districts they work with. Importantly, this data, while provided anonymously with respect to student and district, was disaggregated to explore the outcomes of students living within homes with limited incomes versus their more affluent peers. NWEA’s sample set is sizable, representing one sixth of all Texas students, with students who live in limited income homes being somewhat underrepresented relative to the actual percentage they represent of the state overall.

Overall, our 4th grade and 8th grade reading scores per MAP Growth remained flat to slightly up (though as a state we ranked 45th and 47th nationally in those domains in 2019 on the Nation’s Report Card, or NAEP, and therefore already had much room to improve). Math scores, where we ranked in the middle of the pack nationally in 2019 on NAEP, declined much more notably over the past twelve months.


According to NWEA, the proficiency percentages listed on the graphs above are the percentage of students expected to pass their end-of-year STAAR exam later that school year based on the historical academic progress students would be expected to make in a normal “in-person” school environment. As such, estimated STAAR proficiency rates in Spring 2021 are likely to be even lower than those shown on the graphs above given that we have not yet returned to that learning environment fully across the state.

By disaggregating the data, we can also detect a loss in reading proficiency among our students living in limited income homes that would have gone unnoticed by only analyzing the larger data set. This is particularly troubling for our 4th graders, for whom “reading to learn” is critical to long term academic success.

While these initial insights are disheartening, they are not presented to discourage our educators, who are already familiar with this learning loss and are doing their best to address it. Instead, it’s our hope that this data will reinforce with our policymakers (as they convene in the upcoming Texas Legislature) the continued need to remain firm in our commitments to students given the learning losses that have already occurred and may likely accelerate.

Throughout 2018, I was honored to serve on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. In our year’s worth of meetings, we noted how students living in limited income homes made up the fastest growing demographic in the state (now approximating 60% of all Texas K-12 students) and focused on how their student outcomes were falling far short of their more affluent peers. As a result, we recommended 35 different data proven strategies to drive higher achievement in such areas as full-day Pre-K, greater equitable funding, evidence-based teacher training, and “life-changing salary increases” for effective educators.

The result of that work was the historic passage in 2019 of Texas House Bill 3. This latest round of MAP data clearly demonstrates a clear and continued need to stay the course on all of the bill’s student-centered reforms. While the budget will undoubtedly be tight this upcoming session, our long term recovery will be critically dependent on creating a strong educational foundation in the face of these challenges.

House Bill 3 has the power to help ensure a high-quality education for each and every Texas student, and we encourage our stakeholders to please let your legislator know that you support keeping it fully funded.

Todd Williams is the Chairman and CEO of The Commit Partnership.