Breaking down the new IRI and ISAT scores

The end-of-year scores are in for two of the state’s key assessments: the Idaho Reading Indicator and the Idaho Standards Achievement Test.

The State Department of Education released final numbers from the spring tests late Thursday afternoon — several months after students completed the tests, and just as students are preparing to return to class for the 2019-20 school year.

The tests provide two important yardsticks for the state’s 300,000 K-12 students. The IRI measures reading or pre-reading skills. Kindergarten through third-grade students take the test in the fall and the spring. The ISAT is an online test aligned to state academic standards, including Idaho’s version of Common Core. It’s administered every spring in elementary, junior high and high school classes.

Here are some takeaways from the large data dump, of state-, district- and school-level test scores.


The bottom line. All told, 69.7 percent of kindergarten through third-grade students scored at grade level on the spring reading assessment.

The numbers vary from grade to grade. For instance, 63.1 percent of kindergartners scored at grade level. But those rates improved to 66.7 percent in first grade, 75.3 percent in second grade and 73.2 percent in third grade. For Gov. Brad Little — who has made reading proficiency one of his top policy priorities — those third-grade numbers are a key data point. At Little’s urging, the state has earmarked a record $26 million this year to help at-risk readers.

That overall 69.7 percent rate represents a slight decrease from the preliminary number the State Department of Education released in July.

What happened over the school year? The scores went up from fall to spring. That’s not a surprise. The IRI is designed to identify students who aren’t at grade level and help teachers come up with a lesson plan to bridge the gap.

In the fall, only 52.5 percent of K-3 students were at grade level.

While thousands of students made up ground over the school year, about 26,000 students left school in the spring not reading at grade level.

What do the trends look like? That’s still hard to track. The state is using a new IRI, adopted in 2018-19. While the old test measured only reading speed, the new test tracks students on a variety of metrics. As a result, the SDE says this year’s scores cannot be compared with previous years.

“I look forward to next year, when we can see how this year’s kindergartners progress as first-graders, and so on,” said Karlynn Laraway, the SDE’s assessment and accountability director.

Who were the state’s top performers? Five charter schools, where more than 90 percent of K-3 students read at grade level. The top five: Vision Charter School, Caldwell; Falcon Ridge Public Charter School, Kuna; Rolling Hills Public Charter School, Boise; North Idaho STEM Charter Academy, Rathdrum; and Taylor’s Crossing Public Charter School, Idaho Falls.

The top-performing school district is Nezperce, where 87 percent of students read at grade level.

Who had the state’s lowest scores? Four charters and one school district: Inspire Connections Academy, a Boise virtual charter school (41.2 percent of students at grade level); Peace Valley Charter School, Boise (39.8 percent); Wilder School District (37.2 percent); Syringa Mountain School, Hailey (22.6 percent); and Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy, Pocatello (18.6 percent).

How about the big districts? Four of Idaho’s 10 largest districts topped the state average: West Ada (80.3 percent of students at grade level); Bonneville (77.7 percent); Coeur d’Alene (77.3 percent); and Vallivue (75.6 percent).

Six of the state’s 10 largest districts came in below the state average: Pocatello-Chubbuck (69.5 percent); Nampa (65.9 percent); Boise (65.7 percent); Twin Falls (64.9 percent); Idaho Falls (63.8 percent); and Caldwell (51.2 percent).

Why it all matters. For Little, literacy is a big emphasis, and that extends to his K-12 task force, Our Kids, Idaho’s Future. This week, the task force floated the idea of using IRI scores as the focal point of a new school accountability system.


The bottom line. It varies considerably, based on subject matter. In the science ISAT, 58.9 percent of students scored advanced or proficient. In English language arts and math, those numbers are 55 percent and 44.4 percent, respectively.

As with the IRI, the new numbers represent a slight decrease from July’s preliminary scores.

What are the trends over time? Here, the state can compare scores from year to year. The ELA and math scores improved from the previous year (when 53.7 percent of students scored advanced or proficient in ELA and 43.7 percent scored advanced or proficient in math). The science scores dropped; a year ago, 60.6 percent of students scored advanced or proficient.

A math gap. Once again, math scores steadily dropped as students made their way through the K-12 system. While 53 percent of third-graders scored advanced or proficient in math, only 33.4 percent of high school students met that mark. Conversely, ELA scores generally improved over time, with 59.1 percent of high school students scoring advanced or proficient.

Some district-level thumbnails. Here are the numbers for Idaho’s 10 largest school districts.

District ELA Math Science
West Ada 68 58.9 73.3
Boise 57.3 46.5 58.7
Nampa 50.2 35.7 48.9
Bonneville 56.4 43.5 59.7
Pocatello-Chubbuck 59 50.5 62.8
Coeur d’Alene 61.6 50.3 63.2
Idaho Falls 49.1 38.4 52.6
Twin Falls 50.9 42.1 56
Vallivue 57.4 43.3 55.1
Caldwell 34.6 27.5 39.3
Statewide 55 44.4 58.9

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.

Kevin Richert

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 "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]

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday