Some schools with all-day kindergarten see a surge in reading scores

Dozens of schools with all-day kindergarten programs posted big improvements on Idaho’s spring reading test — beating the state’s overall growth rates.

But these results are spotty — much like Idaho’s patchwork of kindergarten offerings.

As all-day kindergarten becomes a focal point in the state’s early literacy campaign, Idaho Education News took a closer look at the spring Idaho Reading Indicator scores, released last week. The findings aren’t conclusive, but they provide a few hints about possible correlations between all-day kindergarten and reading scores.

First, here’s how we chose the sample:

Idaho EdNews examined the scores for 60 school districts and charter schools that offered at least some all-day kindergarten options in 2021-22. (In an Idaho EdNews survey, sent to schools last fall, 59 districts and charters said they had some form of all-day kindergarten. Not every school responded to the survey, so it doesn’t provide a full accounting of schools with all-day kinder. For example, the West Ada School District didn’t respond to the survey, but the state’s largest district offered limited all-day kindergarten in 2021-22, so West Ada was added to the sample.)

Now, here’s what the numbers say:

  • In all schools, regardless of their kindergarten offerings, IRI scores improved by 24 percentage points over the school year. In the fall, 40.8% of kindergartners had grade-level reading skills; in the spring, that number was 64.8%.
  • In at least 30 districts and charters with all-day kindergarten, scores improved by 24 percentage points or more — meeting or exceeding the overall statewide growth rate.
  • In at least 20 districts and charters with all-day kindergarten, improvements fell short of the 24 percentage point state average. And two charter schools with all-day kindergarten — Pinecrest Academy in Twin Falls and Peace Valley Charter School in Boise — reported sharp fall-to-spring decreases in reading scores.
  • Scores are inconclusive for the remaining eight districts and charters — all small, and mostly rural. That’s because the State Department of Education masks reading scores for many smaller schools, in order to protect student privacy. This often makes it impossible to compare these local scores with the statewide average.

In some cases, districts with all-day kindergarten reported some huge improvements.

In American Falls, only 31% of kindergartners scored at grade level on the fall IRI. By spring, 89.6% of kindergartners hit grade level — an improvement of nearly 59 percentage points.

Vallivue, Fremont County, Caldwell, Lakeland and McCall-Donnelly also saw improvements of more than 40 percentage points.

In several large districts, results were mixed.

Coeur d’Alene and Nampa saw improvements of more than 30 percent. West Ada reported an improvement of 23.7 percentage points, slightly below the statewide average. In Twin Falls and Boise, the improvements were 11.8 percentage points and 9.4 percentage points, respectively.

But West Ada, Twin Falls and Boise all plan to expand their all-day kindergarten programs in the fall. Using their share of state literacy dollars, West Ada and Boise will move from fee-based programs to free programs, and Twin Falls will expand all-day kinder, which had been available in only five of its nine elementary schools.

At Gov. Brad Little’s urging, the 2022 Legislature put an additional $46.6 million into literacy, bringing the program budget to more than $72 million. Districts and charters can put their share of the money into all-day kindergarten, but they aren’t required to do so.

“I’ll be very surprised if (all-day kindergarten) doesn’t become universal,” Little said in April, as he celebrated the passage of the literacy bill at an event at a Kuna elementary school.

Hailing the spring reading scores last week, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra singled out all-day kindergarten as a linchpin for “continued improvement” in reading scores. This spring’s kindergarten through third-grade reading scores improved from 2021, nearly returning to pre-pandemic levels.

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]

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