Fort Worth ISD officials are bracing for a possible slip in the number of third-graders who meet grade level on the state standardized test for math.

But Sarah Arispe, associate superintendent of accountability and data, told the school board Nov. 8 that there is hope for students to gain ground and could exceed results from this past spring. 

Currently, administrators estimate 17% of third-grade students would meet grade level on the math portion of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness — a 14 percentage point drop from the 29% who met grade level in the spring.

“We’re at the beginning of the year,” Arispe said. “We have a lot of great things happening in classrooms around the district, and we know that this is not a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The estimates Arispe presented to the school board were based on the testing group Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress exam. More than 8.3 million students took the test last year. MAP is administered three times a school year: the beginning, middle and end. The district’s estimates came from the beginning-of-the year exam.

In October, Arispe presented a similar seemingly bleak forecast for third-grade literacy. Her reading forecast, though, was significantly higher than the math estimates. 

How students build up their skills for reading and math is different, officials said. Reading skills build on prior knowledge, but students learn specific lessons in math, said Jerry Moore, chief of schools.

“If you have gaps in your learning previously, it’s harder for students to progress,” Moore said. “We need to be more specific with our mathematics instruction.”

The district rolled out a new math curriculum called Eureka this school year, according to officials.

Third- to eighth-grade students are scheduled to take the reading and math STAAR exams in May. This year marks the beginning of a new version of STAAR that is expected to be more rigorous. The test also will be administered online only. 

Third-grade math results from the spring fell short of the school board’s goals. By 2022, the school board wanted 38% of third-graders meeting grade level. Instead, the district fell 9 percentage points short of its mark, but saw a 12 percentage point gain over the 17% of students who met grade level on the math test in 2021. 

In 2023, the goal climbs to 41%.

“We made a great 12-point gain, although that is still low at 29%. We want to recognize that. We didn’t meet our goal last year,” Arispe said. “If we continue that 12-point gain, we will be back on track for 2023. I know there’s a lot of work going on in our schools, and we look forward to meeting or exceeding that goal as we try to gain back some of that unfinished learning we experienced during COVID.”

After hearing these numbers, trustee Anne Darr sees Fort Worth ISD is moving in the right direction.

“We’re moving up,” Darr said. “I appreciate this good news. I also appreciate the fact that there is still a lot more room for improvement.”

Board Secretary CJ Evans echoed Darr. Evans, though, drilled down into the numbers. She wanted to know how schools are helping the projected 83% of third-graders who will not meet grade level.

Those students are targeted for additional tutoring, Saturday school and more support from their teachers, Aripse said.

Trustee Wallace Bridges expressed concern about the projections for Black students. The district estimated 8% of Black students in the third grade would meet grade level on the 2023 math STAAR exam. In the spring, 17% of Black students met grade level. 

Bridges asked how administrators plan to improve the number of Black students meeting grade level.

Campus leaders and teachers are digging into the different reasons for why all groups of students are not succeeding, Moore said. The chief of schools also pointed out where a student attends school also impacts their outcomes.

“What we’re asking our principals to do is not make a generalization but actually know the individual students in that demographic group,” Moore said.

Arispe told the school board to expect another report soon. She plans to bring new projections based on students’ mid-school year performance.

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.