Nat Malkus of the American Enterprise Institute highlights important new data from the Lone Star State.

This week, Texas became the first state to publish a full set of student test scores for this past school year. This provides an early look at what we might expect to see across the country after over a year of pandemic schooling. The news was not good.

For some subjects, test scores did not just drop, but plummeted. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released math and reading tests results for grades 3 through 8, as well as high school students’ results on multiple end-of-course assessments. As one example, Algebra I assessments show that in 2021, just 41 percent of students met grade-level expectations, down from 62 percent in 2019. Scores also dropped for most reading assessments, but by much smaller margins. Scores for science and social studies fell somewhere in-between. …

… It’s important to look closely at these results, and those that come from other states, to make sure declines are not overstated. Some differences between years could stem from a different population of test-takers, which is particularly likely during the pandemic. If, for instance, this year’s test-takers were more disadvantaged, the declines would likely be overstated. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case.

The number of 2021 test-takers was 15 percent lower than in 2019, enough to bias the results if high achievers were more likely to be absent this year. However, advantaged students appear to be, if anything, over-represented. Compared to 2019, higher proportions of gifted and talented students took the STAAR tests this year, and lower proportions of at-risk students, migrant students, and Title I students took this year’s test. If absent students are having an effect on these results, they are under-stating the pandemic damage on student learning.

The pandemic introduced a new group of students — remote learners — that may warrant more attention this year than other, more conventional subgroups.