87th LegislatureEducationTexas Charter Schools Lag in STAAR Scores, Show More Racial Parity

Students at ISDs scored higher than charters in every subject. Black and Hispanic students scored comparatively higher at charters.
July 26, 2021
The 2020-2021 school year ended with plummeting test scores in Texas. Between virtual and in-person instruction, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) found that learning loss was especially dire among students that spent the year behind computers instead of in classrooms.

Consistent differences in test scores also appeared between charters and traditional school districts, though not with the same clarity.

While reporting irregularities frustrate precise analysis, some prominent trends cut through the fog. Students at traditional districts tended to score higher but more unequally on the STAAR while charter students tended to score lower but with more racial parity.

When comparing overall achievement, traditional districts come out on top. Regular school districts enjoyed a higher average score than charter districts in all five STAAR subjects: algebra, biology, English I, English II, and American history.

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Furthermore, the data suggests that a greater share of students in regular districts passed than charter students. According to scores from the five charters and five regular districts that had the most test-takers, a smaller percentage of charter students passed in every subject.

In other words, the average charter had fewer students pass the STAAR than the average regular district.

Source: TEA.

While regular districts saw more absolute success, charters often saw relatively higher achievement for black students, who overall tend to earn the lowest STAAR scores.

In three subjects — biology, English I, and English II — the state’s biggest charters showed smaller achievement gaps than regular districts between black students and Asian students, who tend to earn the highest STAAR scores.

Source: TEA.

In fact, out of the state’s biggest districts of both kinds, the widest gap in racial achievement was in a regular district: Dallas ISD, where the disparity between percentages of black and Asian passing students peaked at a whopping 77-point difference in English I. Over all subjects at Dallas ISD, the gap between the shares of black students and Asian students that passed the STAAR measured at just under 40 points.

Source: TEA.

Not all charter schools closed racial achievement gaps. The charter Uplift Education rivals Dallas in racial disparity across all subjects, peaking at a 54-point difference between black and Asian students in Algebra.

However, black and Hispanic students excelled past white and Asian students in several major charters, an achievement that no traditional district matched besides Northside ISD, where 92 percent of Hispanic students and 91 percent of Asian students passed the U.S. history STAAR.

The Harmony Science Academy in San Antonio was a major outlier in this regard. 92 percent of black students passed the Algebra STAAR at Harmony in San Antonio, compared to 90 percent of Asian students and 68 percent of white students.

Source: TEA.

Similarly, over 80 percent of black and Hispanic students passed the U.S. history STAAR at KIPP Public Schools, compared to 73 percent of white students. Black and Hispanic students at KIPP outpaced white and Asian students on the biology STAAR as well, with the share of passing Hispanic students leading white students by 10 points.

There are certain complications to consider.

First, the STAAR is not mandatory for all students, even in a regular year. Students that have performed well in a particular subject may be exempt from the STAAR. Additionally, thanks to the legislature, students did not have to pass the STAAR to graduate this year. Altogether, this year’s pool of test-takers is much smaller than those of previous years.

Second, variations in student population size make direct comparison difficult. The state’s top regular districts dwarf the combined student body of charters like IDEA Public Schools with far-flung campuses across the state. It must be noted that the five biggest regular districts serve many more students than the five biggest charters.

Lastly, Texas public schools served fewer students this year than last year — a remarkable shift considering the decades of steady population growth that led up to the 2020-2021 year. It remains to be seen how many of the students that left during the pandemic will return to public school this fall.

STAAR scores by district can be found here, as well as the TEA’s analysis of results.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.