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.)


Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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