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What can we do to improve reading skills in HISD?

I wish I knew.

HISD students continue to struggle with reading while matching or exceeding their peers’ math performance in other big cities, according to national test data released Wednesday.

Reading scores for the district’s fourth- and eighth-graders have stagnated for six years. In math, however, the middle-school results have improved over time, and HISD ranks well against others nationwide.

The scores come from a battery of exams, typically called the Nation’s Report Card, that allow big urban districts that choose to participate to compare themselves.

“We are pleased that we continue to perform at high levels in mathematics and are concerned about the flat-line trending of our literacy rates,” said Dan Gohl, chief academic officer for the Houston Independent School District.

Gohl said he plans to present a revised plan for boosting reading skills to the school board in January. Campuses across the district use numerous programs to teach reading, he said, and the quality appears to vary. The differences also may trouble students who transfer schools mid-year.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests a sample of fourth- and eighth-graders every two years. The latest results are from exams taken in early 2013. The other Texas districts that participate are those in Dallas and Austin.

The Houston Press had a cover story the other week about HISD’s reading scores, which look better than they are on the state accountability measures. A lot of big urban school districts have problems with reading scores, though there’s been a good deal of improvement in recent years. Poverty is a big factor – there’s a lot of research out there showing that poor children start out behind their peers even before they get to school – but it’s not the only factor. As our experience with Apollo has shown so far, we seem to have a handle on getting improvements to math scores, but reading is a much tougher nut to crack. We need to figure it out, and the sooner the better. Hair Balls and Washington Monthly have more.

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