Fourth- and eighth-graders in Fort Worth ISD have not bounced back to pre-pandemic levels of academic achievement, according to newly released U.S. Department of Education data.

In addition, Fort Worth students performed below proficiency levels for the nation, state and large cities, with students scoring significantly worse in math. 

The federal government Oct. 24 released results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test administered across the country to students in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades. Education Department officials described the report as essential for educators and leaders to find the best practices and policies to meet the needs of all students.

Tests for fourth- and eighth-graders are administered every two years. The assessment is considered a low-stakes test because it does not affect students’ ability to move onto the next grade nor does it appear on their transcripts.

The test is more commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card, and it is the only assessment designed to track student achievement across the country over a long period of time. 

Fort Worth ISD said the federal test is not aligned with state standards and does not adjust scores for the demographics of a district. The district described the results as highlighting “unfinished learning.”

Peggy Carr is the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the federal agency that oversees the Nation’s Report Card. During a call with reporters, Carr said the results are the clearest picture yet of how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted academic achievement in the U.S.

“The results … certainly should give us all pause as we continue to work to get all of our students back on the path to success, but they also remind us how essential schools are for our children, our families and communities,” Carr said.

On the reading test, 16% of fourth-graders in Fort Worth ISD performed at or above proficiency on the test. In large cities, 26% of students scored at or above proficiency. Across Texas, 30% of students were at or above proficiency, and the national figure was 32%.

Proficiency on the Nation’s Report Card means students showed they had the skills to take on challenging material, apply them to real-world situations and have analytical skills. However, proficiency on this test is not the same as meeting state grade-level standards, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

As for Fort Worth ISD eighth-graders, they performed even worse than their fourth-grade counterparts. Only 12% of Fort Worth ISD eighth-grade students performed at or above proficiency. That is worse than the figures for nation, state and large cities. 

Reading proficiency in both grades dropped from results recorded in 2019 and 2017. Fourth-graders saw a drop of 3 percentage points from 2019. Every time eighth-graders take the NAEP, their proficiency levels have dropped 2 percentage points since 2017.

Fourth-graders recorded better proficiency numbers on math than on reading. In Fort Worth ISD, 23% of students performed at or above proficiency. That number, though, is still lower than the 38% for Texas, 35% for the nation and 26% for large cities. 

Eighth-grade students in Fort Worth ISD had significantly lower proficiency rates than fourth-graders. Federal data shows 11% of eighth-grade students were proficient in math. Fort Worth ISD eighth-graders had lower proficiency levels than the state, nation and large cities.

Like reading, declines were reported on the math test for both grade levels. However, the math decreases for students in fourth and eighth grade were worse than those in reading. Fourth-grade math dropped 6 percentage points, while eighth-grade math dropped 7 percentage points.

Fort Worth ISD said it plans to keep addressing student progress through its new approaches for literacy and math.

Fort Worth ISD’s declines were more noticeable among students who are Black, Latino or come from low-income families. 

On both tests for each grade level, students of color and students from low-income families saw significantly lower rates of proficiency than their white counterparts.

Fort Worth ISD’s lower math results mirror an overall statewide trend. Texas saw its math performance decline on the test, according to the Texas Education Agency. Still, the TEA touted that despite the decline, the state saw fewer declines than other parts of the nation.

“While we are largely recovering from the effects of the pandemic in reading, much work remains in math,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a news release.

The nation saw significant declines in math and dips in reading. 

In a call with reporters, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona described the Nation’s Report Card’s results as appalling and unacceptable. Cardona then took a step back to provide a larger picture of academics in the U.S.

“The data prior to the pandemic did not reflect an education system that was on the right track,” he said. “The pandemic simply made that worse. It took poor performance — and dropped it down even further.”

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.