AUSTIN (KXAN) — After two years of virtual and hybrid schooling, the goal – set out by lawmakers and leadership at the Texas Education Agency and by school districts – was to make up for years of academic losses during the pandemic.
Just before the school year began, Texas lawmakers passed HB 4545, a law mandating districts to make a list of every student who did not pass the STAAR or did not take it and give them more tutoring in smaller groups.
Sounds simple enough, but Texas teachers will tell you quickly – it was not.
Despite the challenges, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will tell you it seems to have worked in terms of student improvement.
STAAR scores for grades three through eight show gains across the board in math and reading from the 2020-21 school year, TEA data shows. Although, the gains in math have still not reached pre-pandemic levels.
Scores also show the improvement stretch among special education students, economically disadvantaged students, and across mastery levels in Texas, according to TEA data.
“That is strong preliminary evidence that the policy framework of House Bill 4545 is working,” said Morath. “It is largely a story of recovery; it is a story of hope. It is evident that we have extraordinary people working in public schools in Texas, our principals and teachers have done everything they can to help our students.”
To implement HB 4545, many school districts asked teachers to come in early or stay late, sometimes for less than their hourly rate, to tutor students. Some teachers gave up planning or lunch periods to implement the mandate from lawmakers.
Morath said the law had varied success depending on how the school district implemented the policy. Morath said some school districts, like Hector ISD, which used virtual tutors, and Hawkins ISD, which built tutoring into its schedule, found success implementing HB 4545.
“If it was not built into the calendar in advance, it was much more difficult, because you were mostly needing to do it after school, before school, you typically needed to use extra labor to do that,” said Morath. “And if you could not find extra labor to do that … then that was one more thing for teachers to do, which is not ideal by a long stretch.”
But there is still a lot to be learned about why scores in the state are improving. Morath said the state has not yet broken down testing results by who all received additional tutoring through HB 4545.
HB 4545 was not the only change to happen in school districts in Texas during the most recent school year. Unlike the two previous school years, at the start of the school year, campuses in Texas were largely operating in person.
“This is what you want to see. You want to see all kids getting better,” said Morath. “What is also true is we have not fully recovered from the effects of the pandemic and mathematics. We have, we do have quite a way to go to get back to our former level of student performance and proficiency in math.”
Parents can see how their children answered each question on the STAAR, including links to the curriculum and information on why the answer was wrong on TexasAssessment.gov.