Fifty-seven schools prepare to roll out new K-3 reading test

Fifty-seven Idaho schools will begin testing the state’s new K-3 reading assessment during the 2017-18 school year.

The pilot program is part of the process of transitioning from the old Idaho Reading Indicator to the new test, which will be designed by the education company Istation, or Imagination Station.

The pilot project and transition are important because all K-3 students are expected to take the new test by 2018-19.

The State Department of Education released the list of 57 schools (from a total of 37 districts) that will administer the new test next year. The list includes schools from some of the state’s largest districts, such as West Ada and Nampa. The list also includes smaller, rural schools in Plummer-Worley, St. Maries and Culdesac.

Other districts — including Boise, Bonneville, Idaho Falls and Twin Falls — are not participating in the pilot at all. Twin Falls district spokeswoman Eva Craner said administrators from her district applied to participate in the pilot, but SDE officials did not select them.

Schools participating in the pilot project must send at least one teacher and one administrator to a test training conference the SDE will conduct before school begins this August.

The SDE will then review 2017-18 pilot project results and look for potential changes before rolling out the new test statewide in 2018-19.

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“I truly appreciate those schools and teachers who are willing to participate in this pilot, and go above and beyond to make this a smooth statewide implementation,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said in a written statement issued Monday.

During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers agreed to spend $100,000 to revamp and pilot test the new IRI. The new Istation test will assess students on vocabulary, comprehension, spelling, decoding and other reading skills, SDE officials said.

The state has used the IRI for nearly 20 years, and in 2013, Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education recommended replacing it.

“We are excited about the reports that will show an individual child’s strengths and weaknesses in reading,” SDE Director of Assessment Karlynn Laraway said. “Teachers will have access to these reports in real time to quickly adjust instruction to support their students.”

Reading experts have cited several shortcomings with the IRI — saying it doesn’t diagnose reading problems and fails to test reading comprehension. But in 2016, IRI scores were used as the metric to distribute $11.25 million for a new state initiative to provide extra help to at-risk readers.

Although the initial phase of the transition will cost $100,000, state officials have estimated the full statewide rollout could cost an additional $500,000.

The 57 pilot schools will actually administer two K-3 reading assessments next year. When school leaders applied to participate in the pilot, they agreed to administer both the old IRI test and the pilot test, SDE spokesman Jeff Church said.