New reading scores: Kindergarten numbers drop further, achievement gaps linger

Idaho’s kindergarten reading scores are declining and are even lower than initially reported, according to new fall 2019 Idaho Reading Indicator scores released late Friday afternoon.

Only 42.3 percent of kindergartners achieved grade-level scores on the fall reading test, according to the State Department of Education’s data release. That’s down from 44.9 percent in the fall of 2018.

In an initial report released last month, the SDE had said 43 percent of kindergartners scored at grade level, arriving at school this fall with the reading skills they need.

The scores are important because they reveal how kindergarten through third-grade students measure up in a variety of reading skills. Gov. Brad Little made youth reading a top priority in his first year in office.

During the 2019 session, Little and the Legislature doubled Idaho’s investment in the literacy initiative. The state is spending $26 million this year to help at-risk K-3 students.

Governor Brad Little reads to children at Hawthorne Elementary school in Boise on March 1. (Sami Edge, Idaho Education News)

“If we spend half our state budget on education, we have zero excuse to not have our kids reading proficiently by the end of third grade, and that’s all kids,” Little said last month during a speech at The Governor’s Summit on the Future of Work.

Last week, Little’s “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” K-12 education task force approved a recommendation to expand optional, all-day, state-funded kindergarten across Idaho as part of a strategy to increase early reading skills. The state pays for half-day kindergarten, and it will be up to Little and the Legislature to decide whether and how to implement the recommendation.

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While kindergarten was the clear area of concern, reading scores for other grade levels have improved this year.

  • In first grade, 49 percent of students scored at grade level, compared to 42.9 percent a year ago.
  • In second grade, 62.8 percent of students scored at grade level, up from 60.3 percent.
  • In third grade, 64 percent of students scored at grade level, up from 61.2 percent.

Students will take the test again in May, with the spring scores revealing growth during the school year.

SDE officials released statewide, district and school level IRI scores Friday. The state also released fall 2019 broken down by demographic and student groups.

Overall, the data showed that 54.7 percent of all K-3 students achieved grade level scores. But when you drill down into the data based on demographics, achievement gaps and disparities are evident:

  • Only 37.9 percent of Hispanic and Latino students achieved grade-level scores.
  • Only 42.8 percent of economically disadvantaged students reached grade-level benchmarks.
  • Only 32.1 percent of American Indian or Alaskan Native students met grade-level targets.

SDE officials released the reading scores to all news media outlets Friday after weeks of pressure applied by Idaho Education News. When the SDE released the initial data Oct. 17, officials said final statewide, school- and district-wide data were “expected to be available early next month,” meaning by early November. Idaho EdNews followed up by filing a formal public records request seeking release of the data. SDE officials said last week they only had raw data, not district- and school-level data.

Then, at noon Friday, IdahoEdNews’ attorney Tim Fleming met with Deputy Idaho Attorney General Leslie Hayes and requested the data be released. Hayes indicated the SDE would release the data Friday. At 4:19 p.m., an SDE spokeswoman distributed a press release to all Idaho news outlets announcing the data had been posted to the SDE’s website.

The public may visit the SDE’s website to download school- and district-level scores. Under the “resource files” tab click “new IRI results,” and then click “2019-2020 results” to obtain the most recent data.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed research to this article. 

Further reading: Click here for a look at how Idaho’s top-performing schools succeed with reading.

Coming next month:

Richert will launch a weeklong series taking a closer look at Idaho’s literacy initiative and different districts’ approaches to reading.

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