Third grade reading passing rates statewide and in HISD, however, declined. This year 82 percent of HISD third-graders passed the first administration of the TAKS reading test, down three points from last year. Statewide, the third grade passage rate declined one percent to 88 percent.
The statewide passage rate for eighth-grade students was 92 percent, up 3 percent from last year, and the fifth-grade passage rate was up one percent this year, to 83 percent.
As part of the State's Student Success Initiative, third-graders are given three opportunities to meet the standard in reading. Fifth-graders, and for the first time this year eight-graders, will have three opportunities in both reading and math to meet the TAKS standard as part of their requirements for promotion to the next grade. The first administration math TAKS for fifth- and eighth-graders will be given on April 8.
This year's academic gains may have been smaller because of new state guidelines that require special education students to take a harder, modified version of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) rather than the State Developed Alternative Test (SDAA) that had been used in the past. At third-grade, for example, HISD saw a big decrease, 20 percentage points, in the number of special education students passing the new modified TAKS exam. That decline in passing rates of special education students figures in to the overall decline at third grade in reading.
Spanish-speaking third-graders fared better in reading than their English-speaking counterparts, passing the Spanish-version of the TAKS at a rate of 87 percent, the same as last year. HISD third-graders taking the reading test in Spanish surpassed the state passing rate of 82 percent. There was a sharp decline in fifth grade Spanish reading passing rates, from 81 percent to 49 percent, but only 93 students took the test in Spanish at fifth grade. State-wide, seventy percent of the fifth-graders tested in Spanish passed.
HISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra said he is glad that fifth and eighth graders made gains in reading this year, but he wants to delve further into why TAKS scores were weaker at third grade.
"Reading is the most fundamental skill that any student can have," Dr. Saavedra said. "No matter what the reason, any decline in the reading ability of our third-graders is unacceptable. We need to look closely at all the factors that may have contributed to it and make improvements."
Among student groups, white third-graders at HISD passed the reading test at a rate of 95 percent, beating the statewide passing average for white students by one point. Hispanic third-graders at HISD passed the English reading test at a rate of 81 percent, compared to 84 percent for Hispanic third-graders statewide.
And African-American third-graders at HISD, who passed at a rate of 77 percent, are just four percentage points behind the statewide passing average.
At fifth grade, African-American students at HISD are now beating the statewide passing average in reading. This year 77 percent of African-American fifth-graders passed the TAKS test, beating the statewide passing rate for fifth grade African- Americans, which was 76 percent.
The passing rate for Hispanic fifth-graders on the English reading test at HISD increased by three points to 74 percent; the state passing rate for Hispanic fifth-graders was 77 percent.