A new report shows the number of students passing this spring’s state reading and math tests declined nearly 30% since 2019 — that means fewer than 3 out of 10 Fort Worth students in tested grades passed.

The Fort Worth Education Partnership, a nonprofit organization aiming to bring awareness about the state of learning in the city, released a report Tuesday that examines the number of students who met grade level on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams.

Using Texas Education Agency data, the report looks at the performance of the 164,000 students who attend the 24 traditional and charter school districts in Fort Worth. It breaks down how students fared on the state test by each City Council district.

Brent Beasley, Fort Worth Education Partnership president and CEO, said the report has two main goals: Show how students are doing going to the school year after a year and a half of the pandemic, and empower city leaders to “work on this in the same way they work on all the other critical issues in our city.”

Beasley presented his organization’s report cards to the City Council on Tuesday. In June, Beasley gave Council members the Fort Worth Education Partnership’s first report that, through 2019 school accountability ratings, revealed school access inequities. The organization, which is funded by the Walton Family Foundation, Sid Richardson Foundation, Kleinheinz Family Foundation and The City Fund, plans to issue more reports in the future, including one that will likely look at 2022 STAAR results.

‘Prepare for us to be hit really hard’

Across the city, the number of third- through eighth-grade students who passed their reading and math STAAR tests declined 11 percentage points from 2019 to 2021. Two years ago, 39% of students met grade level on the reading and math tests.

Mayor Mattie Parker was not surprised when she read through the Fort Worth Education Partnership’s new report, she said. Parker has a background in education; she was the founding CEO of the education-focused organizations Fort Worth Cradle to Career and the Tarrant To & Through (T3) Partnership. 

Through her conversations with school officials and other education experts, Parker understands that students took a big hit because virtual learning did not work for most of them.

“I was prepared for us to be hit really hard, but what I think is interesting about the Fort Worth Education Partnership report — and I’m choosing to think of it as a positive than a negative — is that not every school setting suffered the same way,” Parker said. “So what is it about those settings and that academic setting for students that’s working for them that’s not working for other students?”

Mayor Mattie Parker speaks to someone at the library’s opening. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Educators and administrators have widely agreed that remote learning has not been the best environment for students and has caused learning losses that could set children back for life.

In Fort Worth ISD, the city’s largest district, two factors besides virtual education contributed to declines on the state standardized test: the timing of interventions and lower at-risk student performance.

District 4 saw the biggest drop in the number of students meeting grade level on the STAAR assessments. In the East Fort Worth district, 33% of students passed — a 14 percentage point decrease from 2019’s 47%. 

Council member Cary Moon wants parents and schools to focus on bread-and-butter subjects, like reading and math. The city and other education groups can help support schools and students as they try to bounce back, he said.

Education is an economic development issue

Moon and Parker see education as an economic development issue that affects the overall city and individual children. For example, Moon said the city needs to be cognizant not to make any tax abatements that take away property tax revenue from school districts.

“Education remains the best opportunity for low-income children to advance economically,” the District 4 Council member said. 

The number of students failing cannot be an issue pawned off onto the school districts, the mayor said. 

“We have to have ownership about that because the numbers are showing you — and they have for years — that our students are not performing where they’re capable of performing,” Parker said. “These kids are amazing; they’re capable of wonderful things. How do we adapt the K through 12 structure in a way that meets the needs of a 21st century workforce?”

A portion of the millions of dollars in federal stimulus funding coming to Tarrant County needs to be used to help students, the mayor said. Fort Worth ISD alone is receiving $260 million over the next three years. District officials plan to use that funding to get students back on grade level as part of their learning recovery plan.

“These numbers are not new to us, or to any other school district in the state,” Fort Worth ISD spokesman Clint Bond said of the Fort Worth Education Partnership’s report.

Parker wants to see what plans school districts form to change the reading and math results, as well as how administrators better support teachers. She pointed to Fort Worth ISD’s teacher incentive pay program as one way to reward educators.

“They deserve to have as many tools as possible to help serve students differently,” Parker said.

Cities have a limited role to play in education. Schools are controlled through local districts and the state government. Regardless, Beasley says all elected officials need to keep their eyes on education. 

“You can’t have a healthy city, you can’t have a healthy City Council district without having effective schools,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include information about the funders of the Fort Worth Education Partnership.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.

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