I’ve been soliciting comments on my campaign site for ideas to improve the school district and have received about 150 so far. I’m analyzing them now for trends and will soon publish the results on my site. For now let me say that several parents have expressed concerns about lack of phonics training and poor reading abilities in elementary school that carry over into middle school.
This is certainly something worth looking into. The statistics indicate a problem, IMHO. If you look at Page 1 of the Texas Academic Performance Report for the Humble ISD in 2015-16, you will see average reading scores by state, district and grade level. We actually do better than the state average for grades 3 through 8. That’s good in a way, but the statewide statistics are, frankly, embarrassing.
The percentage of students who can’t read at grade level goes from 73% in third grade, to 76% in fourth, 81% in fifth, 71% in 6th, 72% in 7th and 88% in 8th. The District shows similar variance by grade level, but with slightly higher scores: from 3-8 they show 80%, 80%, 87%, 78%, 77% and 90%. The numbers become truly alarming when you look at the racial breakdowns: African-Americans go from 64% to 70% to 75%, 64%, 64%, and 84%. Hispanics go from 75% to 73%, to 83%, 72%, 71%, and back up to 87%.
The first thing you notice when you look at these statistics in tabular form is the roller-coaster nature of the scores. With large numbers of students, that’s a red flag. There are huge swings in every group just before they get to high school (between 7th and 8th grades)!
Statewide, there’s a 16% increase in people reading at grade level between 7th and 8th grades. District-wide, there’s a 13% increase; among African-Americans, a 20% increase; among Hispanics, a 16% increase. Why the sudden increases just before high school? Are that many kids getting that much better in such a short amount of time? Are the tests harder or easier from one year to the other? The only other hypothesis I can think of is that teachers are grading more leniently because there’s pressure to move kids on to high school.
Statistical anomalies like these always merit investigation. If elected, I would like to dig into this more thoroughly. I have three basic questions. Why are the reading scores so poor from grades 3-7? Why do they suddenly increase in 8th grade? And if the increase in 8th grade is real, why can’t we replicate it in grades 3-7? At a minimum, we need to increase reading scores in the lower grade levels. Good reading skills form the foundation for success in every other subject area and life in general.