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For Texas elementary and middle schoolers, something about learning math just isn’t adding up.

Standardized test scores released by the state Friday show that fewer students are completing math on grade level compared to last year. Meanwhile, districts are still struggling to get more students on pace in reading.

Key takeaways from the release of STAAR scores

  • Districts are still struggling to recover math scores post-pandemic, as scores decline
  • Reading scores have remained flat for the second year
  • The largest districts in the Houston area were on par with statewide performance
  • Houston ISD managed to buck the trend, showing improvement in both elementary math and reading

The largest Houston-area districts largely mirrored the statewide trend, which shows that students are still struggling to bounce back after academic performance took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On average across the state, the share of elementary and middle school students “meeting grade level” in math — meaning they are ready to advance to the next grade — dropped from nearly 43 percent to roughly 40 percent. Reading scores saw virtually no change for the second year, hovering around half of students reading on grade level.

“While we continue to see progress in other areas — which is a testament to the dedication and skill of our Texas educators — it’s clear that math performance is not where students need it to be for success after graduation,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath wrote in a statement. “Pandemic-induced disruptions to learning exacerbated students’ difficulties in mastering fundamental math concepts.”

Texas students take the standardized test, known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, each spring. The scores largely determine a district’s A-through-F accountability rating assigned by the state. Families often use these letter grades to evaluate how well Texas schools are educating children. 

However, districts haven’t received their grades for the 2022-23 school year as adjustments to the grading formula face ongoing legal challenges. The TEA would have released the ratings in August 2023, but a Travis County judicial court order has prevented them from doing so.

READ MORE: Explained: Why Texas hasn’t released 2023 school ratings yet

In the Houston region, districts largely performed on par with state averages, struggling to produce growth in reading and seeing declines in math.

Houston districts overwhelmingly saw the most reading improvement among fourth and sixth graders, a trend mirrored statewide. However, that growth was offset by declines in other grades, keeping overall scores flat. Statewide, reading scores were also stagnant last year.

Data shows that HISD bucked the trends, with nearly every elementary and middle school grade showing growth in both math and reading. Third grade reading and fifth grade science scores were the only to decline when compared to last year.

Morath installed superintendent Mike Miles to lead the district last in June 2023 as part of state sanctions against the district. Since then, Miles has implemented polarizing and rigid policies. The early numbers suggest his controversial changes are driving results on standardized tests, as the scores outpaced all of the other large Houston-area school districts.

“HISD still has much work to do to increase proficiency for all students, but STAAR tells us that we are headed in the right direction,” Miles said.

Outside of HISD, Aldine ISD was the only large Houston district to increase the share of students meeting grade level for math, improving by one percentage point while all others saw declines or stagnance. Still, at roughly 24 percent, the district still lags behind its neighbors in students on grade level in math.

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Miranda Dunlap is a reporter covering K-12 schools across the eight-county Greater Houston region. A native Michigander, Miranda studied political science pre-law and journalism at Michigan State University....