Texas facing crisis as student reading gap grows during pandemic

ByKayla Starr Simmons KTRK logo
Friday, April 22, 2022
Action 13: 'Turning the Page on Illiteracy' town hall
Join ABC13 for an Action 13 town hall highlighting how literacy can impact more than just test scores. It can also determine the safety and health of an entire community.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Schools across the Houston area are seeing a widening in the student reading gap, only made worse during the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the pandemic, nonprofit Literacy Now said 63% of children in the third grade were not reading at grade level. State data shows that number has increased to roughly 72% since March 2020.

"The work can be done. We are doing the work," said Jacque Daughtry, Literacy Now's executive director. "The principals are doing the work, but there is a huge deficit, primarily in our communities of poverty and low income."

Thursday, ABC13's Kayla Simmons hosted a town hall, bringing together leaders in education to discuss the literacy crisis facing students in Houston and across Texas.

Panelists for the town hall included:

  • Jacque Daughtry, Literacy Now executive director
  • Bronchelle Johnson, Milne Elementary (HISD) principal
  • Karen Harris, Cunningham Elementary (HISD) principal
  • Mark Samuel, Shadowbriar Elementary principal
  • Dr. Shawn Nickerson, Bruce Elementary principal

WATCH: Aldine ISD director of literacy weighs in on widening reading gap

"It's going to take more than just one teacher or one school to turn around these sobering (literacy statistics)," Aldine ISD's Dr. Demedia Edwards said.

Turning the tide won't be easy. Our panelists identified poverty levels, lack of access to books, including diverse titles, and learning disabilities as just a few reasons for the literacy crisis in Houston.

Most urgent is the need to reach students at or below the third grade. Daughtry said during this critical milestone, children transition from learning how to read to reading to learn.

When a student gets behind, she explained, the consequences can be dire.

Beyond failing grades, illiteracy has been linked to poverty, unemployment, rising crime and even the likelihood of incarceration. In Houston, 1 in 3 adults is functionally illiterate.

Mark Samuel, principal of Shadowbriar Elementary in west Houston, said the solution doesn't rest solely on teachers and parents. He said community involvement will be key to turning around these troubling statistics.

"There's an elementary school close to where everyone lives," Samuel said. "Reach out to the principal to do something as simple as reading to the kids. That's something that is simple and doesn't require a lot of time, but it goes a long way."

For more information on Literacy Now, visit LiteracyNowHouston.org.

Viewers can watch the town hall anywhere they stream Eyewitness News, including on Roku and Fire TV. Just search "ABC13 Houston."