By David McClendon, Center for Social Measurement & Evaluation

The Texas Education Agency recently revised their labels for student performance on the STAAR state exams. There are now four categories. Here is what these categories would mean for a 3rd grade student taking the STAAR English assessment in the Spring of 2017:

  • Does Not Meet Grade Level: students answer <50% of exam questions correctly
  • Approaches Grade Level: 53% of questions correct
  • Meets Grade Level: 75% of questions correct
  • Masters Grade Level: 83% of questions correct

Here at CHILDREN AT RISK, our Center for Social Measurement and Evaluation (CSME) team uses the top category, “Masters Grade Level,” to rank schools and assign letter grades every year. The “Masters Grade Level” indicates a student is “well-prepared for postsecondary success.”

In this data blog post, we ask: How are Texas school districts faring on this highest level of student achievement?


Top Ten Districts in Texas

When we look at the share of students who “Master Grade Level” in 3rd grade through high school STAAR Reading and Math, the top ten districts in the 2015-16 school year were Carroll ISD, Devers ISD, Lovejoy ISD, Highland Park ISD, Eanes ISD, Nazareth ISD, Coppell ISD, Frisco ISD, Allen ISD, and Harmony School of Science in Houston.



But even among these top performing districts, the share of students achieving the “Masters” level was low. Only at Carroll ISD, in North Texas, and Devers ISD, outside of Houston, were at least half of students meeting this high level of academic performance (58% and 50%, respectively). At all other school districts, the vast majority of students scored below the “Masters” level, answering fewer than 83% of the exam questions correctly.

In fact, only 14% of students at the average school district in Texas achieved “Masters” level on STAAR exams. 


Taking Poverty into Account

Of course, not all school districts serve the same kinds of students. For instance, schools and districts with high levels of poverty tend to have lower test scores than schools and districts with greater wealth, due to the multitude of challenges that poverty presents to students, parents, teachers, and schools.

When poverty is taken into account, there are many school districts over-performing what we would predict given the level of economic disadvantage of their students.

For example, three out of four students in San Perlita ISD in the Rio Grande Valley were economically disadvantaged, and yet 31% of students performed at the “Masters” level – 21 points higher than the average performance of schools at that high level of poverty.

Harmony School of Science in Houston also over-performed its level of poverty (47% economically disadvantaged) by a similar margin with 37% of students achieving the “Masters” level.

Many large urban school districts over-performed their level of poverty, such as Austin ISD, Houston ISD, and Katy ISD. Still, large majorities of students in these districts are not reaching the “Masters” level on their exams, indicating that more work needs to be done to ensure all students, regardless of poverty, are reaching their full potential.


Inequality within Districts

Finally, there was also important variation within school districts in student achievement.

In Houston ISD, for example, some schools had upwards of 80% of students achieving “Masters” level on their exams in 2015-16. Other schools in Houston ISD, however, had fewer than 1% of students reaching that level.

We looked at the largest schools districts in the state (50,000 or more students) and measured the level of inequality in test scores between schools (using the standard deviation). The chart below ranks school districts from more equal to less equal (left to right) and shows the spread of student scores for schools within each district.

Some districts, like Aldine ISD and Pasadena ISD, had relatively low levels of inequality within their districts. However, most schools in these two districts were low achieving, with few students reaching the “Masters” level – equality doesn’t always mean better performance.

At the other end of the spectrum, Fort Bend ISD, Conroe ISD, and Austin ISD had the highest levels of inequality between schools in their districts. These districts had many top-performing schools but also many low-performing schools.