Following low reading scores, Abbott launches new school initiative


Students in all but one grade level did worse on the reading portion of STAAR this year.

The new elementary school initiative will create new tools for teachers, students and parents.

Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency have launched an elementary school reading initiative in the wake of declining reading scores on state standardized tests this spring.

Parts of the Texas Readers initiative build on efforts to improve literacy among public school students. However, included in the plan that Abbott outlined on Tuesday are a public service marketing campaign in partnership with PBS, the United Way and Univision; new, free online instructional materials for teachers; and tools to help teachers monitor student progress.

“While Texas has some of the best public schools in the country, there is still more we can do to provide our children with the best education possible,” Abbott said in a news release.

RELATED: Drops in Texas STAAR scores raise questions — and testing angst

This month, the Texas Education Agency released the latest reading scores on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness that showed that students in all but one grade — seventh — did worse than last year. Moak, Casey & Associates, a leading consulting firm in the state on school finance and accountability, has pointed to changes in the way tests were administered this year as a major reason why scores might look worse, calling any comparisons to last year’s scores “apples-to-oranges.” However, even when the consulting firm adjusted for some of the changes, students in almost all grades did worse on the STAAR reading test.

Austin students’ reading scores also declined in grades three through eight.

Mirroring national trends, the state’s reading performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also called the Nation’s Report Card, has been relatively stagnant — fourth-grade students are performing 1 point better than they did in 1998.

READ: Hundreds of Texas teachers rally against special session issues

The TEA launched a revamped online portal for parents to see their children’s STAAR scores, how they answered on each question and to offer additional support to help improve scores, especially in reading.

“Reading will always be the foundation that determines success in the classroom for every child at every grade level,” Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in the news release.

The marketing campaign also will include local family events, free online apps, a text messaging campaign and comprehensive website.

Other parts of Abbott’s reading initiative will include more learning material available to students as well as focused instruction for special education students and those learning English. Teams of coaches will help teachers around the state as well as “literacy coaches, professional development, strategic planning, sustainability support and the ability for districts to pilot programs and models that can be disseminated across the state,” Abbott said.

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