Fort Worth resident Maria Gonzalez knew her daughter’s grades were off. 

Gonzalez’s 8-year-old daughter, Citlalic, got perfect scores at school. Her teacher said she was doing great. 

But Gonzalez knew something else from observation — her daughter couldn’t read. 

“I guess I was just, in a way, making it easier for me, because I was just going through what they were telling me,” she said.  

Gonzalez was among about three dozen parents who flew balloons at Ella Mae Shamblee Library to mourn Fort Worth’s low literacy rate. Only 44% of students across all school districts and charters in the city of Fort Worth are reading at grade level. The next day, Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker proclaimed Sept. 8 as International Literacy Day in the city.

Fort Worth is committed to students’ success by creating youth library programming, providing free community Wi-Fi in underserved neighborhoods and providing safe walking routes to schools, Parker said. 

“Literacy of our students is a community crisis, not just a school crisis,” she said. 

The event was hosted by Parent Shield Fort Worth, a parental advocacy group.

Trenace Dorsey-Hollins, founder and executive director of Parent Shield Fort Worth, encourages other parents to speak up about Fort Worth’s low literacy rate Sept. 7, 2023, at Ella Mae Shamblee Library. (Dang Le | Fort Worth Report)

A balloon release is typically reserved to mourn the death of loved ones, said Trenace Dorsey-Hollins, founder and executive director of Parent Shield Fort Worth. The organization uses the act to symbolize hopes that the city would no longer experience low literacy rates. 

“The balloons are going up, and from this day forward, so will the literacy rate,” Dorsey-Hollins said. “It’s only up from here, and we’re going to lift literacy as a community.” 

Over half of the 12 school districts in Fort Worth saw decreases in third-grade reading scores on the state standardized test, while the other five had increases or stable numbers. This year saw the first time students took the newly revamped test that was only administered online. 

All grade levels except sixth graders at Fort Worth ISD saw a drop in grade-level reading skills.

Parents navigating literacy issues

Stories like Gonzalez’s are common among parents in Fort Worth. 

Fort Worth resident Melony Watson said her fourth-grade daughter, Trinity, started kindergarten during COVID-19. When Trinity began first grade, Watson told the teachers that her daughter might have difficulty reading. 

The teachers reassured her that Trinity was OK and that struggling to read was normal for students who started school amid the pandemic. Trinity then came home with a notice she’d made the A-B honor roll.

But Watson knew something was wrong — Trinity could say the words when her mother spelled the letters, but she couldn’t when she looked at the paper herself.

Turns out, Trinity has dyslexia. 

“How did you push my baby through three grades and she can’t read — and no one noticed that she was dyslexic?” Watson said. 

Parents lift up balloons, which signifies the act of letting go of low literacy rates in the city, Sept. 7, 2023, at Ella Mae Shamblee Library. (Dang Le | Fort Worth Report)

In front of the parents at the event, Fort Worth ISD Trustee Wallace Bridges said that addressing low literacy rates in the city will require all parents to unite and send a message about what’s happening to their children. 

“It’s going to require all of us to roll up our sleeves, every last one of us,” Bridges said. 

Fort Worth ISD is disaggregating the STAAR data to identify key standards for accelerated learning while continuing to refine its Tier 1 planning and delivery of instruction, said Mary Jane Bowman, the district’s executive director of humanities and academic support initiatives, in an email. 

“In addition, we are also providing additional opportunities to close the gap based on student needs through high-impact tutoring and Saturday learning quests,” Bowman said. 

‘We had parents literally breaking down crying in our clinic’

In July, Parent Shield Fort Worth held literacy assessments using the science of reading method. When talking to parents in the community, the organization has found that the report cards do not match the STAAR results regarding reading skills, Dorsey-Hollins said. 

The members knocked on doors to convince parents to bring their children in for assessment. The results were eye-opening, she said, because 70% of parents who walked through the assessment believed their children were reading on or above grade level. 

Instead, about 64% of participating children failed to read on grade level. Dorsey-Hollins recalled telling a parent that their sixth grader was reading on a fourth-grade level.

“We had parents literally breaking down crying in our clinic because they didn’t know what to do,” she said.

What parents are doing

Fort Worth resident Bridgett White said she is trying to improve her 10-year-old son’s reading skills by asking him to read after school and then write down what he read. If he doesn’t know a word, she directs him to look it up in the dictionary, White said. 

Growing up, White said she saw the adults around her would get in trouble for signing documents they couldn’t read. She doesn’t want her children to have the same experience, she said. 

“You don’t want to be an adult to have problems understanding stuff [that] they can’t read,” White said.

Parent Shield Fort Worth is working on partnering with the city’s library to increase literacy awareness, Dorsey-Hollins said. The organization has also had conversations with Mayor Parker and hopes to partner with her on next year’s summer reading challenge. 

Gonzalez said she has found the confidence from joining the group to communicate with teachers and get more involved in finding help for her daughter. 

“I still have lots to learn. I’m still working on it and trying to do the best for my kid,” she said. 

Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Creative Commons License

Noncommercial entities may republish our articles for free by following our guidelines. For commercial licensing, please email

Dang Le is a reporting fellow. He can be reached at Le has a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. He was the editor-in-chief at The Shorthorn, UTA’s...