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Fall numbers from the second year of Idaho Reading Indicator give a better sense of how well young students can read as they start school.

In early November, the Idaho State Department of Education released reading scores for school districts and individual schools. The Idaho Reading Indicator provides measures of reading and listening comprehension for students in kindergarten through third grade when they begin school in the fall. Students will take the exam again in the spring to see how much they improved during the school year.

Overall, the fall reading rates dropped slightly among kindergartners from the first-year results in 2018 but rose for the other three grade levels. In Idaho Falls School District 91 and Bonneville Joint School District 93, the number of students at grade level was up around 2.5 percentage points from last year. Idaho Falls rose from 46.6 percent at grade level to 48.9 percent, while Bonneville rose from 53.8 percent to 56.2 percent.

Jason Lords, curriculum director in District 93, said that teachers are already finding ways to use the reading indicator scores. Schools give monthly reading tests, which don’t count to the statewide scores but give teachers updates on which areas students need the most help with. Kindergarten teachers use a rotation-based system to frequently check in with students and their individual progress.

“Some students are working with the teacher on letter sounds and shapes, and when other students come through they talk about the book they’ve been reading for the week. It gives them a lot more flexibility,” Lords said.

In eastern Idaho, the school with the highest overall score heading into the year was Lincoln Elementary School in Rexburg. More than 73 percent of all Lincoln students entered this school year reading at grade level, while just 8.7 percent were significantly below grade level.

Lincoln Elementary School principal G. Scott Shirley said his philosophy was to not focus on standardized test results. He believed the reading indicator was beneficial because it measured at the beginning and end of the school year, which gave teachers and parents more time during the year to help struggling students improve.

“The (Common Core testing) gives us end-of-year data on items or material we may not have covered, much too late to do anything. In other words, a post mortem autopsy. The new IRI is like a visiting family physician who works to maintain good health, thereby keeping the patient alive, well and happy,” Shirley said.

With 63.8 percent of its students reading at grade level, Madison District 251 also had the highest average reading indicator score out of all public school districts in eastern Idaho. Adams Elementary School was the fourth-best performing school in the region, with 70 percent of young students reading age-appropriately.

In Bonneville County, District 93 and White Pine Charter School performed similarly with overall at grade level scores of around 56 percent this year. District 91 had 48 percent of students reading at grade level and had a large gulf between grades. Nearly 60 percent of kindergartners and first graders entered the year near or below grade level, while 60 percent of second and third graders started reading at grade level.

The only grade in districts 91 or 93 who had significantly lower reading results this year were District 93 kindergartners. The number entering school at grade level dropped from 46.5 percent last fall to 40.7 percent this year. Lords said that those results could be a one-year fluke, given how new the test is, or could be related to issues other than the ability to read.

“Especially with that first score, is it that students can’t read or is it a technology issue? Is it their first time using a mouse or a touchscreen?” Lords said.

At the other end of the test results, two Blackfoot elementary schools had the lowest IRI scores in the state this fall. Donald D. Stalker and Fort Hall elementary schools both had less than 29 percent of all K-3 students reading at grade level to start the year.

Brennen is the main education reporter for the Post Register. Contact him with news tips at 208-542-6711.

Top IRI Scores in eastern Idaho

School District Students Reading at Grade Level
Lincoln Elementary Madison 73.5
Rimrock Elementary Bonneville 71.9
Sunnyside Elementary Idaho Falls 70.4
Adams Elementary Madison 70
Gate City Elementary Pocatello 68.5
Teton Elementary Fremont County 67.6
A.J. Winters Elementary Bear Lake 66.7
Chubbuck Elementary Pocatello 65