More than 600,000 Texas public school students, about 11.3% of the overall student population, either didn't complete assignments or didn't respond to teacher outreach for some period of time this spring during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Texas Education Agency released a report Tuesday showing that higher percentages of low-income, Black and Hispanic students were not completing assignments or were not responsive to teacher outreach compared with higher-income, white and Asian peers. Texas collected the data from school districts in early May, and districts have until July 16 to update their numbers.
The report comes as Texas, like states across the country, puzzles through decisions on what the upcoming academic year will look like for students and staff. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has stressed that schools should be prepared this fall to address the effects of the "COVID slide," the likely academic backslide due to the pandemic.
After the pandemic forced all school buildings to shut down in April, Texas public schools reported losing contact with thousands of students, including some of their most vulnerable. Many students did not have access to the internet, while others, especially older students, went to work to replace income their families had lost during the economic decline.
According to the TEA report, about 16.9% of Black public school students in Texas were not fully engaged with their schoolwork or teachers during the pandemic, the largest percentage of any racial or ethnic subgroup. And about 13.3% of Hispanic students were not fully engaged, the next largest percentage. Only 6.4% of white students were not fully engaged, according to the report.
And about 15.5% of economically disadvantaged students were not fully engaged during school closures, compared with less than 5% of higher-income students. The majority of Texas public school students are Hispanic and low-income.
The report shows that students in younger grades, especially pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, were less likely than older students to complete assignments or be in touch with their teachers. The report breaks down the data by race, economic disadvantage and grade level, but not by school district or geographic region.
Texas charged local school districts with the difficult task of finding students who entirely disengaged from their teachers and administrators while school buildings were closed, including some who completed no assignments. The state advised districts to meticulously document the number of students who were rarely or never in communication with their teachers and arrange home visits to ensure students were safe.
As Texas civil courts resume evictions proceedings and some businesses shut down again, school officials are expecting to see more students in vulnerable situations, including living in hotels, one of the last resorts for families who cannot afford hefty deposits.
School districts are funded based on the number of students in their seats. This year, Texas fully funded districts as long as they promised they were teaching students remotely while their buildings were closed.
School districts will continue to receive funding for students they teach virtually in the upcoming school year, state officials announced last week. They can offer live video instruction for students and submit the number of students who show up to receive funding. Or they can provide students with prerecorded videos and worksheets and track students' daily progress if they submit a plan to the state and get permission.