What STAAR Scores Actually Measure: Beyond the Classroom 

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently released data on high school STAAR test results, showing an improvement in students’ performance on English II but remaining largely stagnant from the prior year and still catching up to pre-COVID levels. 

The Austin American-Statesman reported that, “Students who met grade level for the English I test remained at 54% this year, while the students who met English II standards increased to 60% from 56% last year — both higher than pre-pandemic scores, according to TEA data.” 

The recent STAAR test results reveal a persistent struggle among Texas high school student’s post-pandemic, particularly in Algebra I, with only 45% meeting grade level. Low-income students consistently score lower across all subjects than their non-economically disadvantaged peers. For instance, 35% of low-income students met the grade level in Algebra I, compared to 61% of other students.  

Emergent bilingual students stand out as a notable exception to the general trend of students struggling to reach pre-COVID performance levels. These students have made gains in every subject except algebra compared to their pre-pandemic scores, although they still perform below their peers overall. 

These statistics and the persistent, significant drop from pre-pandemic scores highlight a critical issue:  the problem lies not with the students but within the broader systemic challenges they face due in large part to the state’s chronically underfunding public schools and resources for student well-being. The correlation is plain to see. 

The following TEA chart illustrates the correlation between the percentage of a school district’s or charter school’s students who are economically disadvantaged with STAAR performance. 

STAAR test results for grades 3-8 were just released today. Parents can access their child’s results at https://www.texasassessment.gov/index.html 

Mental Health 

Texas faces a severe student mental health crisis, with an alarming student-to-counselor ratio of 389:1, far exceeding the recommended 250:1. This shortage leaves many students without adequate mental health support, exacerbating anxiety, depression, and trauma—issues worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and pervasive use of social media. We are not supporting our student’s mental health challenges, which we know directly impact students’ ability to engage with their studies. How can we criticize students’ test scores on the STAAR, which speak less of their academic potential and more accurately reflect the state’s lack of support for mental health? 

Underfunded Schools 

Over 91% of Texas students attend underfunded schools, which struggle to provide essential services like updated textbooks, technology, qualified teachers, and extracurricular programs. Texas ranks 44th in the nation for per-pupil funding, underscoring the lack of investments in Texas public schools. This financial strain deprives students of the tools and support needed for academic success. How can we expect our students to succeed on assessments like STAAR when we are not giving them all the ingredients they need to succeed? 

Food Insecurity 

Texas’s top ranking for food insecurity, especially among rural areas, significantly impacts student performance. Rural counties, which house 15% of the state’s population, experience the highest rates of food insecurity, with children comprising 40% of those in need. The recent rejection of nearly half a billion dollars in federal aid for a summer meals program exacerbates this issue, leaving many students hungry during school breaks. We know that hunger directly affects a student’s ability to concentrate and perform well academically. How can students focus on their studies and excel in standardized tests if food insecurity creates a barrier to learning? 

The STAAR test scores do not reflect students’ abilities but are a symptom of the broader systemic issues affecting Texas’s education system. For this reason, it is not sound policy to link educators’ salaries to STAAR test scores or use high-stakes standardized test results to evaluate teachers, principals, schools, and school districts. To truly improve student outcomes, Texas must address the root causes of poor performance. By tackling these issues head-on, we can create an equitable educational environment where all students don’t just survive, but thrive.  

To read more about Texas AFT’s policy proposals, please read our recently released report.  

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