Last week I took time to watch online the delivery of the Texas Education Agency’s 2021 Annual Report to the Texas State Board of Education by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, and it was predictably revealing and shocking, pretty much as most observers expected, which is probably why it has been very lightly reported by the media. He began by stating what everyone expected to be the overview by announcing that, “because of COVID, the degree of decline cost students ten years worth of gain in every category of performance”. Some highlights:
- Tracking the Texas high school graduating class of 2013, 26% of this class had achieved a post-secondary credential–industry certification, 2 – year associates degree, or 4- year college degree–within six years of high school graduation, down from 29% in the previous year, and considerably lower than the state goal of 60% by 2030.
- Validating the ten year wipe out of achievement gains, the percentage of students meeting grade level in math across all grades, which had increased from 34% in 2012 to 50% in 2019, fell to 35% in 2021.
- In STAAR exam achievement the number of Texas students meeting grade level in reading in 2021 shrunk by 7% in the third grade and 8% in the eighth grade; in math the declines were 18% and 19%, respectively.
- He further announced that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test has been administered in Texas, but the results will not be available until later this year. This will provide 4th, 8th, and 12th grade comparison with results in math and reading from around the country and no doubt shed additional light on the devastation in Texas and the nation.
This is a monumental problem, it will take years, if at all, to catch up from numbers like this, and the most disadvantaged of our children have no hope of doing so. I have a couple of thoughts: one, although COVID deserves a significant share of the blame for this achievement catastrophe, there is compelling evidence that some of this decline in performance pre-dates the pandemic and actually coincides with the gutting of the Texas accountability system by House Bill 5 in 2013, which should be restored; and two, comprehensive school choice is not the total answer, but it would sure help in bringing additional talent and the element of competition to the task.