About half of students score at grade level on new reading test

The fall scores on the state’s new reading test are out.

As expected, most numbers are down from 2017 — when students took a less comprehensive screening exam. As a result, state officials caution against comparing year-to-year results.

The numbers, released early Friday evening by the State Department of Education, provide a first glimpse at how kindergarten through third-grade students fared on the new version of the Idaho Reading Indicator.

This marked the first time all K-3 students took the new IRI — a online-based assessment designed to determine if students have grade-level reading skills, or if students need extra help to catch up.

All told, 52.5 percent of students were at grade level. However, the numbers vary considerably by grade:

  • Kindergarten: 45 percent of students read at grade level.
  • First grade: 42.9 percent.
  • Second grade: 60.3 percent.
  • Third grade: 61.2 percent.

In three of the four grades, the new scores represent a dropoff from fall 2017. The lone exception is second grade.

But SDE officials say the old IRI was limited in scope, measuring only reading speed. The new test is designed to assess phonemic awareness, letter knowledge, vocabulary, spelling and comprehension.

“This assessment gives a more complete view of students’ skills and helps teachers focus their instruction to meet their students’ individual needs and monitor their progress,” SDE assessment and accountability director Karlynn Laraway said in a news release.

In an August Idaho Education News interview, Laraway cautioned that scores would drop as students took the new and more comprehensive test.

The fall scores also revealed some demographic gaps.

While 57.2 percent of white students read at grade level, 34.7 percent of Hispanic students and 30.4 percent of American Indian and Alaskan native students read at grade level.

Meanwhile, 41.2 percent of economically disadvantaged students read at grade level.

The new reading test, administered in August and September to 89,000 students, comes as Idaho is stepping up a multiyear and multimillion-dollar effort to improve reading skills. The state is putting about $13 million into the literacy effort this year.

Despite the influx of money, reading scores dropped in 2017-18 — the second year of the state’s literacy initiative, and the final year of testing on the old IRI.

The chronology

Friday’s release of the test scores was delayed — and came after repeated public records requests filed by Idaho Education News.

The timeline:

Aug. 31: Laraway tells Idaho Education News the scores would be available by the third week of October.

Oct. 18 and Oct. 26: Idaho Education News files records requests for the fall scores.

Oct. 29: Laraway tells Idaho Education News the scores would be released on Oct. 31.

Oct. 31: Idaho Education News receives a letter from the SDE, saying the scores were not ready for release. The SDE says the scores would be available by Nov. 9 — 10 business days after Idaho Education News’ Oct. 26 request, but 16 business days after the Oct. 18 request. Under state law, agencies have 10 business days to comply with public records requests.

Nov. 6: State superintendent Sherri Ybarra, the elected official who oversees the SDE, is re-elected to a second term.

Nov. 9: The SDE issues a 5:36 p.m. news release and a spreadsheet of state, district and school-level IRI scores. (The news release and spreadsheet were not posted on the SDE website as of 7 p.m. Friday.) In an email, SDE spokeswoman Kris Rodine said the early evening announcement was “unavoidable.” She said the scores were not ready to release until the end of the day — the 10th business day after Idaho Education News’ Oct. 26 request.

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]

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