Dr. Billy Reagan is 83 years old and even though his days as superintendent of the Houston ISD are long behind him, he still keeps a careful watch over the largest public school district in the state.
According to Reagan, who bases his conclusions on analyses of HISD scores on the national Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test done by his consulting company, Unlimited Access Educational Systems Inc., many kids in HISD, particularly if they are Hispanic or Aftican-American, can't read -- at least not at at their grade level.
One principal told us that 80 percent of the ninth graders who arrive at that particular high school, are reading at the fourth or fifth grade level.
Reagan's assessment is verified in other ways. Several kids who talked with the Houston Press for this story confirmed that they can't read -- and they are seniors about to graduate from high school.
Local education activist and researcher George Scott confirms with his own analysis of PSAT scores and college graduation rates that however well the Texas state tests say HISD students are doing, those results are not being replicated elsewhere.
Of course, as Debbie Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency says herself, if the actual recommended passing rates were now in force instead of being phased in on the new STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) the passage rate for all groups of kids would be much smaller.
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For Spring 2013, 11,109 students in HISD took the STAAR third grade reading test with a 74 percent overall passing rate.
But put in the real TEA-approved passing standard that all students will eventually have to meet and only 37 percent of those kids would have passed. Enforce the state's own "real" passing standard and the percentage of white students passing 3rd grade reading drops from 92 percent to 70 percent, Hispanics from 75 to 34 percent and African-Americans from 66 to 25 percent. The pattern repeats among sixth grade HISD students in reading. Overall, the passing rate drops from 64 percent to 34 percent with white students dropping from 88 to 71 percent, Hispanic from 60 to 28 percent and African-Americans from 62 to 28 percent. Or an equity gap of 43 percentage points.
At the high school level in HISD, the overall passage rate for English I Reading was announced at 59 percent. Re-set to the grade level standard and that's 38 percent. For whites it's a drop of 86 to 72 percent, Asian Americans 76 to 67 percent, Hispanics 56 to 33 percent and and African Americans 54 to 32 percent.
If this makes you a bit uncomfortable, then you might want to read our cover story "Lies and Statistics" this week.