El Paso area high school students performed far better on this year’s state standardized math exam than last year, an encouraging sign for educators after 2021 scores revealed significant pandemic-driven learning loss.
Results from this year’s spring high school algebra tests released Thursday show that 49% of Region 19 test-takers scored on grade level, up 18 percentage points from last year. But that’s still well below spring 2019 when 76% of the region’s students met grade-level math standards.
Still, Region 19 surpassed the state’s overall performance in math, the subject that saw the greatest decline after students suddenly went from in-person to online-only classes.
Region 19 includes the 12 school districts in El Paso and Hudspeth counties.
Statewide, 46% of high school students scored on grade level in algebra, putting El Paso four percentage points ahead, compared to last year’s 10-point gap. In 2019, the last test year before the pandemic upended schooling, the region led the state by 14 points.
State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, scores for students in grades 3 through 8 are expected to be released next week, according to the Texas Education Agency.
This spring was the first time since 2019 that students were required to take the exam, which was optional last year. The exams were canceled in 2020.
This was also the first full school year since the start of the coronavirus pandemic that El Paso area students received in-person instruction. Last school year, many students weren’t given the option to return to campuses until after winter break.
Algebra performance has long been a point of pride for the El Paso Independent School District, said Carla Gonzales, associate superintendent of academics and school leadership. In 2019, 75% of EPISD’s test-takers met grade-level algebra standards compared to the state’s 62%. This year, 47% of EPISD students scored on grade level, up from last year’s 35%.
“We have some good things going on, but we’re certainly not satisfied,” Gonzales said of the scores.
“We need to continue to focus on a lot of spiraling and really reinforcing with hands-on activities,” Gonzales said. Spiraling continually introduces students to an area or concept they may struggle with — or one that was taught in a previous grade — so that they are exposed to it in various forms and have multiple opportunities to master it.
Gonzales said she anticipates that by next spring, the share of EPISD students scoring on grade level in math should exceed spring 2019.
Manny Soto, Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Education Development data director, said he did not expect Region 19 students to recover as much as they did this year, which he called a “very positive sign.” This year’s students, he said, are performing around where they were in 2017.
CREEED aims to increase the number of El Paso area students who graduate prepared for college.
Of concern to Soto is the fact that two-thirds more students did not pass the math exam this spring than in 2019.
An El Paso Matters analysis of the STAAR results reveals that close to 3,400 students in the region did not meet grade-level standards — and thus did not pass the Algebra I exam. In 2019, about 1,100 students did not pass. Last year, about 4,000 students did not pass that exam.
“It’s growth at the top but the bottom of the tunnel just got a little bit deeper,” Soto said.
Unlike math, Region 19 did not see gains in the number of students who scored on grade level on the reading tests.
Results show that 41% scored on grade level on the English I exam, down three points from last year, and seven percentage points below 2019.
In English II, 53% performed at grade level, the same share as last year, but up from 2019, when 48% scored on grade level in English II.
Statewide, 48% of high schoolers were at grade level in English I and 57% in English II.
“We’re toe-to-toe competitive in state averages,” Soto said.