PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Of all the metrics in early education, a child’s ability to read by the third grade is the most critical and according to recent test results, Pittsburgh Public Schools are failing.

“Researchers predict that children who cannot read by the third grade will never be proficient readers most likely to drop out before their high school graduation,” said Board member Sala Udin.

The school board last night reviewed the dismal results.

The percentage of students who scored below basic reading levels jumped last year from 11.7 to 17.9%. Which is an increase of more than 6%.

Among African-American third graders, the percentages are even more alarming.

62% cannot read proficiently. Udin said 70 to 80% of the kids in the Hill District can’t read but desperately need to learn.

“There is no other way. We’re their only ticket to success, and for many, or for most, that ticket is turning up counterfeit,” Udin said.

Udin and other members have been critical of an educational technology reading program called “ReadyGen” which the district purchased for $4.4 million dollars.

The program is said to lack a strong foundation in phonics and board members say it’s short-changing students.

“We really need to spend our money on the teachers, not on the stuff,” said Board member Regina Holley.