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State of Our Cities: Hispanic reading scores show some progress but not enough for success beyond high school

January 27, 2017 5 minute Read by William McKenzie
The progress of Hispanic students is really crucial for the progress of big states like Texas and California but also for a growing number of states. Their mastery of key subjects like math and reading will determine not only their own economic mobility but also the economic vitality and future leadership of cities like Dallas.

A couple of months back, I wrote this piece about the middle school algebra completion rates for Hispanic students in several cities. As I said at the outset, the progress of Hispanic students is really crucial for the progress of big states like Texas and California but also for a growing number of states.

It is not that other populations matter less. It’s just that a number of school districts have growing Hispanic populations. In Dallas, for example, Hispanic students make up about 70 percent of the student body. Their mastery of key subjects like math and reading will determine not only their own economic mobility but also the economic vitality and future leadership of cities like Dallas

So, let’s look at another metric in the State of Our Cities report to assess the progress of Latino students in the cities with the largest Hispanic populations. For the purpose of this piece, let’s look at trend lines in reading on the Trial Urban District Assessment for Hispanic students in Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, Houston, Chicago, Dallas, and San Diego. 

TUDA, as it is known, assesses reading and math scores every four years in select urban districts. The assessment is offered by the respected National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Here's a quick look at the average score of Hispanic students in fourth and eighth grade reading in 2010 and 2014. I also have included a cheat-sheet to help you understand these average raw scores:

Fourth grade reading scores

Fourth graders possessing an ability to locate relevant information, draw simple inferences from a text, and understand the meaning of words score at the 208 level and above. Fourth graders who go beyond that and interpret a text and draw conclusions from a text score at the 238 level and above.

   2010  2014
Los Angeles   196  197
 New York City  207  205
 Chicago  201  205
 Dallas  200  200
 Miami  222  229
 San Diego  201  204
 Houston  209  204
Eighth grade reading scores

Eighth graders possessing an ability to identify main ideas and themes, draw simple inferences, and interpret the meaning of a word score at the 238 level and above.

Eighth graders who go beyond that and analyze texts, fully back up their conclusions about a text, and summarize main ideas and themes score at the 281 level and beyond.

   2010  2014
Los Angeles   241  246
 New York City  246  254
 Chicago  255  257
 Dallas  246  251
 Miami  262  266
 San Diego  245  248
 Houston  249  247

There are many ways to assess this data, including how the scores of Hispanic students compare to those of all other students in a district. But, again, let’s look at the trend lines in these average scores for Hispanic fourth and eighth graders.

You can do your own comparison of individual cities, but here are my main takeaways:

*We are seeing some signs of progress, even notable gains in particular cities. For example, New York’s Hispanic eighth graders showed an impressive gain in reading scores.

But these scores are generally inadequate for the reading skills these students will need to succeed after high school. In fact, no city is close to having an average score at proficient for Hispanic eighth graders. That includes even relatively high-performing Miami.

*The data drives home the need for schools in each of these cities to act upon these results and use proven reading strategies. The same is true for all cities, for that matter. Matching research-based strategies to the problems this information shows can lead to more positive results for students.

For example, research tells us that reading must be tackled in middle school as a school-wide priority.  At the middle school level, reading is connected to all other studies, so it will not help students to treat it as an independent subject.

*Educators, policymakers, parents, and taxpayers need to know this kind of data. Timely and transparent information can help improve both teaching and learning. 

*These numbers are important to understand for the larger societal reason I mentioned at the outset. The progress that Hispanic students make in reading will shape not only their futures, but also the communities in which they live.

For that reason, all of us as citizens, taxpayers, parents, and educators need to remain focused on one of our most important domestic challenges. The advancement of Hispanic students starts with strong reading skills, and using data strategically can help schools develop those skills.


Author

William McKenzie
William McKenzie

William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.

Active in education issues, he co-teaches an education policy class at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. He also participates in the Bush Institute’s school accountability project.

Before joining the Bush Institute, the Fort Worth native served 22 years as an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News and led the newspaper’s Texas Faith blog. The University of Texas graduate’s columns appeared nationwide and he has won a Pulitzer Prize and commentary awards from the Education Writers Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Texas Headliners Foundation, among other organizations. He still contributes columns and essays for the Morning News and The Weekly Standard.

Before joining the News in 1991, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and spent a dozen years in Washington, D.C. During that time, he edited the Ripon Forum.

McKenzie has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, on the board of a homeless organization, and on governing committees of a Dallas public school. He also is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and their twin children.

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