Little aide: Spring reading scores provide a promising ‘baseline’

Gov. Brad Little hasn’t seen detailed scores from Idaho’s latest reading test, but he thinks the early numbers are encouraging.

Greg Wilson

“We like where we’re at as a baseline,” Greg Wilson, Little’s senior policy adviser for education, told Idaho Education News Friday.

Specifically, Wilson singled out one score from the spring Idaho Reading Indicator: 73.5 percent of third-graders were reading at grade level. That puts these students on pace as they head into fourth grade — making the classroom transition from learning to read to reading to learn.

The State Department of Education released limited scores on July 1. Nearly 70 percent of kindergarten through third-grade students scored at grade level on the spring IRI. Those numbers improved during the school year, but nearly 26,000 K-3 students still left school this spring with below grade-level reading skills.

The department didn’t release raw numbers by grade, only percentages. Scores for districts and individual scores were also unavailable. The SDE has promised district- and school-level data by Aug. 15.

When Little’s office gets this data, staffers will go over the details with Little’s “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” education task force. Staffers might not have the numbers in time for the task force’s next meeting, which is likely to take place in Boise in early August, Wilson said.

The reading scores figure to draw scrutiny from Little’s staff — and from the education, political and business leaders on the task force. Little has given the task force a specific and limited assignment: He would like to see only five or six specific recommendations by fall, focused on reading skills or college and career readiness.

Little has made early literacy one of his top education priorities. He convinced the 2019 Legislature to put $26 million into programs to help at-risk readers, doubling the previous year’s budget.

The schools won’t get the added money until fall, so the budget boost had no bearing on the spring IRI scores.

Over time, the reading scores could inform the way schools spend literacy money. Schools have a range of options now; they can spend their share of the money on all-day kindergarten, for instance, or hiring coaches to work with reading teachers.

The state will want to strike a balance, Wilson said. The data could help state officials determine the most effective programs to help struggling readers. But at the same time, state officials will want to preserve local control, allowing schools to choose literacy programs.

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