Warning of ‘COVID slide,' Texas Education Agency reports 1 in 10 students have disengaged during the pandemic

Science students at Bayless Elementary in Lubbock raise their hands to answer a question posed during a water conservation presentation.      Jerod Foster for the Texas Tribune
Science students at Bayless Elementary in Lubbock raise their hands to answer a question posed during a water conservation presentation. Jerod Foster for the Texas Tribune

More than 600,000 Texas public school students, about 11.3% of the overall student population, either didn’t complete assignments or 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 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, puzzle 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 had 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 Texas black public school students 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 them to meticulously document the number of students who are rarely or never in communication with their teachers and arrange home visits to ensure students were safe.