After a significant drop in test scores last year, Texas public school students have begun the slow climb back to pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest test results.
A closer look at the data shows clear regional differences across Texas and mixed results in terms of how well charter schools compare to traditional school districts.
Differences Between Charter Schools and ISDs
The scores presented here are for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) end-of-course exams, which cover high school classes in five subjects: Algebra I, Biology, English I, English II, and U.S. History.
Overall, a lower share of students passed the STAAR at charters than at traditional independent school districts (ISDs).
However, the numbers break down differently from place to place.
Charters are often established as alternatives for students that have not performed well in their ISD. Some charter schools outperform the traditional public schools in their district, while others perform worse.
Using the Texas Education Agency’s enrollment data, map of charter campuses, and newly released test results, The Texan compared the percentage of students that passed the STAAR between charters and school districts in the five biggest ISDs: Houston, Dallas, Northside, Katy, and Cypress-Fairbanks.
Houston ISD, the biggest school district in the state, performed worse than most charter high schools in the district on the STAAR. Out of all five subjects, Houston ISD ranked lowest in English I compared to charters in the area.
Like Houston ISD, Dallas ISD has a large number of charter schools serving high school students within its borders. However, Dallas ranked slightly higher, outperforming most area charter schools. In U.S. History and English II, an equal number of charter schools outperformed and underperformed Dallas ISD.
Compared to charter schools in its borders, Dallas ISD ranked highest in Algebra I, beaten only by Life School Oak Cliff, Golden Rule Charter School, and A+ Secondary School.
Despite their size, Northside, Katy, and Cy-Fair all have far fewer charter schools in their districts.
Katy performed worse than three of the four charter schools in the district in all subjects.
On the other hand, Northside ISD beat out four of the five charter schools in the district overall, only trailing Basis San Antonio-Shavano. Subject by subject, Northside ISD was also surpassed by Southwest Preparatory School in U.S. History and Anne Frank Inspire Academy in English I.
Cy-Fair ISD only has two charter schools in the district, and it landed between them in terms of student achievement.
STAAR scores varied significantly between the state’s 20 education service regions. Region 8, covering the Piney Woods area in the northeastern corner of the state, ranked highest in terms of average student achievement. Specifically, the mean percentage of passing students in all five subjects was 81.8 percent in this region. Abilene’s Region 14 followed at a close second, and the Panhandle region ranked third. Region 18, spanning the Permian Basin area west of the Concho Valley, had the lowest percentage of passing students averaged across all five tests with 67.8 percent.
The Abilene-anchored Region 14 was the only region to rank highest in more than one subject. The region had the greatest share of students pass the English I, English II, and U.S. History tests.
Test scores by region can be viewed here, and a map of the state’s education service regions is embedded below.
The TEA noted in its analysis, which includes 3rd and 8th grade scores as well as high school scores, that different racial groups have followed similar STAAR trends for the past three years. In math as well as reading and language arts tests, all racial groups dropped in 2021 and rebounded slightly in 2022. In both categories, the drop was steepest for Hispanic students.
The share of Texas public school students taking the STAAR grew in 2022, meaning the scores are a more representative picture of Texas public student achievement. 98 percent of Texas students took the STAAR in 2022, compared to 87 percent last year.
To pass the STAAR, a student must only “approach grade level” understanding of the subject. Beyond that, a student can “meet” or “master” grade level.
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