How one student graduated from a Baltimore high school without ever learning to read

This story comes from Fox 45 in Baltimore, the same station that has been covering problems at the city’s schools for months. Monday reporter Chris Papst filed his latest story about a woman named Debora Prestileo who graduated from Baltimore City schools back in 1999. But even today, more than 20 years later, Debora has never really learned to read.


“It’s embarrassing sometimes,” Prestileo told Project Baltimore. “Going into stores, like if I go into Walmart, and I’ve got to ask for help. Sometimes people laugh at me.”

Prestileo has a learning disability, caused in part by a hearing impairment that wasn’t addressed until recently. She’s partially deaf, which severely impacted her ability to learn.

As most parents are probably aware, you can’t graduate from high school without passing certain core classes including English. So how did Debora get through four years of English classes without being able to read? She got “help” from her teachers.

“Some teachers would give me, like if we’re taking a test, they would give me the paper, so I can write the answers down, so I wouldn’t fail the class. And I’m like, ‘well, that’s not teaching me, that’s just helping me cheat,’” Prestileo said…

“They passed me. They just passed me along to get me out of the school,” Prestileo told Project Baltimore. “They knew I didn’t know how to read. They knew I didn’t know how to do a lot of stuff. But they didn’t care.”

Papst looked up her records and not only did Debora pass she got Cs in her freshman and sophomore years. That’s obviously not possible unless those teachers were cheating.

Debora’s story ties into another one that Fox45 reported last month. A teacher gave the station unredacted test scores that show 77% of students tested at Patterson high school are reading at an elementary level.


In reading, 628 Patterson High School students took the test. Out of those students, 484 of them, or 77%, tested at an elementary school reading level. That includes 71 high school students who were reading at a kindergarten level and 88 students reading at a first-grade level. Another 45 are reading at a second-grade level. Just 12 students tested at Patterson High School, were reading at grade level, which comes out to just 1.9%…

Baltimore City Schools has a “one fail” policy, which states, “students cannot be retained a second time prior to ninth grade.” That means students go to the next grade no matter how little work is completed.

In a follow up story, Fox 45 reported students at the same high school weren’t doing any better in math.

At Patterson High School, 575 students took the iReady math assessment, but just 17 of those students tested at Algebra and Geometry level math, which are courses required to graduate. That comes out to 2.9 percent…

The data shows 455 students, or 79 percent of the students tested, were doing math at an elementary school level. Of those students, 35 tested in kindergarten, 66 were at a first-grade level and 79 at a second-grade level.

2nd grade math is still learning addition and subtraction of numbers up to 100. So anyone at this level or below is going to have a hard time working with money or keeping track of their own finances. These kids are being set up for a lifetime of struggle and failure.


I’ve said this before but what’s happening here is fraud. This particularly school has a $12 million annual budget and it is failing the majority of its students year after year. The people overseeing this shouldn’t be fired, they should be charged. Gov. Larry Hogan saw the two Fox 45 reports and had the correct reaction. “Where’s the outrage?” he asked. It’s a good question and so far it seems no one in the city of Baltimore can muster any.

Finally, here’s the report about Debora Prestileo, just one of the many people that Baltimore schools have failed.

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David Strom 5:20 PM | April 19, 2024