Fort Worth citywide STAAR scores showed no gain over last year, report shows

Fort Worth’s public school students lost ground in reading on this year’s state test, according to a new analysis of test results.

The Fort Worth Education Partnership presented its annual report on the city’s state test results at a Fort Worth city council work session Tuesday. Across all grades and subjects, 36% of students in the city scored on grade level, according to the analysis. That’s the same percentage as last year. Students made progress in math, climbing from 30% last year to 34% this year.

But results dipped in reading, with 44% scoring on grade level this year, down from 46% last year, according to the report.

In 168 of the 216 schools in the city, or about 79%, less than half of all students scored on grade level, according to the report.

“We know what that means for these kids and for their futures,” Brent Beasley, president of the group, told council members. “And we know what that means for our city.”

Nearly two-thirds of Fort Worth kids test below grade level

The analysis includes STAAR scores from students in grades 3-8 from every campus across the 12 independent school districts and 14 public charter school networks with campuses in the city limits. It focuses only on the percentage of students who scored on grade level, and doesn’t include those who approached grade level.

The 36% of students who scored on grade level across all subjects this year represent progress compared to the 28% who met grade level in 2021, the first year students took the state test after the pandemic began. But the city’s scores still lag behind pre-pandemic levels: In the spring of 2019, the last year students took the test before the pandemic, 39% scored on grade level, according to the report.

Beasley compared the stagnant results to the city trying to climb a hill. In 2019, before the beginning of the pandemic, education leaders in Fort Worth knew they had a tall task ahead of them to improve reading scores. But with the beginning of the pandemic and the educational disruptions that came with it, the city fell into a hole at the base of the hill, he said. The city has mostly pulled itself out of the hole, he said, but now it finds itself back where it started.

Leila Santillán, the group’s vice president for operations, told the Star-Telegram that, in the aggregate, students in every part of the city performed roughly the same on this year’s exam as they did last year. A few parts of the city saw average scores that were one or two percentage points higher or lower than last year, she said, but no part of the city saw great gains or drastic losses.

The report is based on state test scores that were released last month. The Fort Worth Independent School District is home to about 41% of the city’s public school students, making it the largest single district serving Fort Worth students, according to the report. Another 46% go to the 11 other school districts with campuses in the city, and about 13% go to public charter schools.

The decline in reading mirrors statewide trends: Across Texas, the percentage of third-graders who met grade level in reading on this year’s STAAR dipped two points compared to last year, from 50% in the spring of 2022 to 48% this year.

Pete Geren, president of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, told council members that parents were largely unaware of the problem, because in many cases, students who perform below grade level on state tests still bring home As and Bs on the report cards. He encouraged council members to hold town hall meetings in their districts to talk to parents about the problem, and walk them through the process for finding their kids’ STAAR scores.

When parents know their kids are behind at school, there are things they can do to help, Geren said. They can request small-group tutoring at school or make a point to work with the kids on their own, he said. But if they don’t know there’s a problem, parents can’t help, he said.

“This is a crisis that it’s unaddressed at present,” Geren said. “It’s a crisis that’s hidden in plain sight.”