Returns on the literacy initiative, in historical context

We’ve spent a lot of time and words comparing this year’s reading scores with the 2015-16 numbers.

And for good reason. The 2016-17 spring scores represent an important mile marker — one year into an $11.25 million-a-year state effort to help at-risk readers.

Last week, I received an email suggesting I take the long view. So, let’s look at how 2016-17 Idaho Reading Indicator scores compare with numbers from the past decade.

Two takeaways:

  1. The 2016-17 scores were solid but not record-setting

Statewide reading scores improved in 2016-17; 73 percent of Idaho’s kindergarten through third-grade students ended the year reading at grade level.

That 73 percent figure lands squarely at the 11-year median, according to the State Department of Education’s numbers. Spring scores peaked at 76.6 percent in 2009-10, but hit a low-water mark of 71.9 percent in 2015-16.

While it is accurate to say the 2016-17 scores represent a one-year improvement, they also are an improvement from Idaho’s lowest scores in a decade.

Now, for a more favorable comparison. During 2016-17 — which, again, is the first year of the $11.25 million literacy initiative — scores improved by 14.2 percentage points. This wasn’t a record, but it exceeds the 11-year median.

So, when school districts and charter schools had extra money to pay for extra help in reading, the dollars produced some promising returns.

(Click here for the K-3 scores since 2006-07.)

  1. Fall kindergarten scores are falling  

Last fall, only 51.4 percent of kindergartners showed up for school reading at grade level.

That’s the lowest percentage since 2006-07. What’s more, these fall kindergarten numbers have dropped for five consecutive years.

The good news: 80.3 percent of kindergartners hit grade level on the spring IRI — a 28.9 percentage point improvement, the highest since 2006-07. Once again, the first year of the literacy initiative yielded some real results.

Still, the fall kindergarten scores are significant. They don’t say very much about a kindergartner’s district or charter, but they show how these new students stack up just a few weeks after they enter the K-12 system. They reflect a home environment — such as the time parents spend reading to their young kids — and the learning environment offered through preschool.

As Idaho’s pre-K debate continues, don’t be surprised if fall kindergarten scores are part of the discussion.

(Click here for the kindergarten scores since 2006-07.)