HISD Stalls in Reading on Nation's Report Card, Sees Math Gains
In another indicator that the Houston ISD hasn't mastered the art of teaching reading, today's release of scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that while there are some gains in fourth and eighth grade math, average HISD reading scores have not improved since 2007 and, in fact, are below both the state and national average for public schools in large cities.
As we wrote about in last week's cover story, literacy remains a significantly stubborn problem in HISD according to national test scores. This comes despite the state's own reading and writing testing scores which tend to be higher than the nationally standardized tests such as the PSAT or the Stanford.
The district's latest chief academic officer, Dan Gohl, said that literacy is a big concern for the district, adding that one problem may be that there is a wide range of reading programs in the district as compared to the math ones. He insisted that there would be no top-down decree from the administration building but that he would be submitting a proposal to the school board in January calling for a revision to the current reading program.
"We are pleased we continue to perform at high levels in mathematics and are concerned about the flat line trending of our literacy rates particularly when we examine the country as a whole and how our peer districts continue to grow," Gohl said. " We are looking into what our successes are and what are the challenges we face. One of the big differences is the range of programs we have in literacy and the fairly small range of programs we have in math. And the local control in our schools in determining what academic approaches they take may be leading to more programmatic confusion for our students in literacy. And so coherence is going to be a question we're examining in all academic programs.
"What we are looking at is the community of schools -- the principals, the school advisory councils -- be responsible to each other to ensure that when a student moves from one elementary school to another, they're not having to go to a completely different philosophical approach of how to learn to read.
"We cannot allow people to independently choose what literacy program they have without acknowledging that it must adhere to a community standard," Gohl said.
All students in HISD did not take a NAEP test. Instead, NAEP administrators chose students at certain campuses to take the test. No student takes all of the test, just two 25-minute parts of it and other than say steering NAEP away from an alternative campus, HISD has no say in who is chosen, according to Research and Accountability Assistant Superintendent Carla Stevens.
Called the Nation's Report Card, the NAEP test also breaks its results into a segment on how the largest urban districts across the country perform in comparison to each other.
One important difference in the fourth grade reading test, Stevens noted, is that while the state allows fourth graders to test in Spanish, NAEP does not. At the same time, she said, HISD's exclusion rate has dropped from 14 percent to 6 percent meaning more students who are limited English speakers are taking the NAEP test in reading.
Gohl said the NAEP is one of many "lenses" HISD uses to look at the academic progress of its children. "It is an important but not holistic approach to understanding our achievement."