Test scores show Texas schools are on fire. Parents, what will you do about it? | Opinion

If a hitter in baseball is successful in a third of his attempts, he’s a superstar. In most of the rest of life, reaching a goal less than half the time is cause for major change.

When it comes to Texas public schools, though, we accept failure over and over again. The latest State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness results show miserable performances in reading and math, yet they were met with a shrug.

The STAAR results, statewide and in local districts, reinforce that there’s a four-alarm fire in our schools. And it’s not just in big urban districts. Do parents smell the smoke? Are they ready to grab a bucket and fight it?

A sampling of the scores reveals more hotspots than we can address. One of the most crucial is third-grade reading, and results are stagnant. Just 46% statewide meet grade-level standards. In Fort Worth ISD, it’s a nightmarish 33%. In later grades, slightly more than half of children statewide make the grade. In Fort Worth, it actually gets worse: By eighth grade, a little over 1 in 5 students read at the required level.

The picture is better in the suburbs, but not by much. Just 38% of third-graders in the Crowley and Arlington districts hit the mark. Wealthier districts do better, with majorities of students approaching grade level. But even in Northwest ISD, where families are flocking, just a little over half reach grade level, for example.

Math scores, by the way, are even worse.

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Years of struggle, compounded by the setbacks from the COVID pandemic, have left us somewhat numb to these figures. But it can’t continue.

The STAAR is not perfect. Many teachers, students and families detest the importance attached to it by the state and the resulting focus on teaching to the test. No one exam tells you anything, and test anxiety is a real impediment for many students.

Directionally, though, the results are unmistakable. Many parents may not really even know it because of factors such as grade inflation and schools’ efforts to disguise their failures.

School districts “need to be more transparent,” said Trenace Dorsey-Hollins, founder of Parent Shield Fort Worth, which aims to give parents information and tools to demand better of their children’s schools. “We all know report cards are not giving the full picture of where schools stand.”

When news of the STAAR scores broke, Dorsey-Hollins said, “my phone was blowing up” with parents asking for help finding their children’s results. “That lets me know schools are not providing access” to the information.


It’s going to take a jolt to get schools moving in the right direction. The conversation about Texas education has bogged down to one focused entirely on parental choice and state funding of public schools.

We maintain that both sides are right, to an extent. Texas families will benefit from a limited program that sets up education savings accounts for private-school tuition, tutoring or other expenses, given the diversity of their needs. But let’s recognize that school choice is no panacea. An overwhelming share of children will remain in Texas public schools.

And those schools require more funding, especially when retaining the best teachers is harder in an inflationary era. The vast majority of any school district’s expenses go toward salaries and benefits, and we know that good teachers are a huge factor in student achievement. But we can’t pour money into the same failing systems and programs. The state must demand better accountability and commitment to raising reading and math skills.

We’ve done this before: In the early 1980s, business legend Ross Perot led a commission that proposed vast changes to education policy, and the Legislature signed on. Texas raised teacher salaries, demanded tests for certification and even limited kids’ athletic participation — “no pass, no play” — to demand better from students and schools.

In the George W. Bush era, we began to take measuring school performance seriously. Inevitably, that system led to excesses and exhaustion with testing, and it was dialed back.

Can we muster that kind of will and focus again?


Even if our institutions begin to move at high levels, it’ll take a grassroots effort, too.

“It’s a huge disconnect with what parents think and what is the actual standings of our children’s schools,” Dorsey-Hollins said. “When parents know, they act, so that’s why we’re really pushing the district to give us this information. … We have the most stake in the game because these are our children.”

Dorsey-Hollins said that her group is pushing for broader and earlier pre-kindergarten enrollment and wants district officials to ensure that teachers adhere to science-based techniques for teaching reading.

At the individual level, parents should consider asking for a conference with their child’s teacher and inquire about available resources to help them specifically, including possible evaluation for issues such as dyslexia, she said.

“There’s instances where this just is not the right school or fit for your child, and maybe you need to look into finding a different school option,” Dorsey-Hollins added.

Waiting on elected leaders, from the school board to the Capitol, isn’t working. We need them to do better for all Texas children.

Only pressure from parents, business leaders, voters and taxpayers will force them to move.

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