Most elementary students in Idaho, including those at local school districts, showed improvement in Idaho’s early reading test compared to 2020’s results.

Statewide results of the Idaho Reading Indicator show 51% of the state’s students in kindergarten through third grade are reading at grade level, up from 49% last fall, the state Department of Education announced in a Monday news release.

“The final results are encouraging, especially in grades 1 through 3, where children are continuing their education,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said in the release. “The percentage of students at grade level this fall increased from each grade (K, 1, 2, 3) to the next, and the percentage below grade level declined.”

Now in its fifth year of administration, the Idaho Reading Indicator is given to all K-3 public school students each fall and spring. The test measures five reading skills: alphabetic knowledge, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency.

Kindergarteners were the only group that had a lower score for reading-readiness than the previous year’s cohort, Ybarra said in the release.

“It is essential to give children a strong educational foundation when they enter school, and that’s why my top priority for the upcoming legislative session is to provide the option of full-day kindergarten for all at-risk students — a category that covers about two-thirds of all incoming kindergartners,” Ybarra said in the release.

Idaho Falls School District 91 students performed slightly below the state average but followed the trend Ybarra highlighted. According to state data, 45% of students at District 91 are reading at grade level, which is an improvement from fall 2020 where 41% of students were at grade level. Kindergarteners performed slightly worse than last year’s group, with 31% of students reading at grade level compared to 34% in 2020.

Swan Valley School District 92 was right around the state’s average with 51% of students reading at grade level.

Bonneville Joint School District 93 performed slightly better than the state average with 53% of students reading at grade level, an improvement from 48% of students at grade level in 2020.

A higher percentage of District 93 kindergarteners, 43%, are reading at grade level than the 38% of kindergarten students who were at that level in 2020.

Jason Lords, District 93 director of Learning and Instruction, said this was the first time since the Idaho Reading Indicator was implemented that kindergarteners have performed better than the previous year’s group during a Nov. 10 school board meeting where he discussed the district’s data.

“I love that our kindergarteners are higher this year because even when they come in at (a lower reading level), by the time they get to third grade we get them to that (grade) level ... our hope is they can actually grow even higher,” Lords said during the meeting.

Both school districts saw improvement in the 2021 percentage of students reading at grade level for grades 1-3 when compared to 2020, following the state’s trend. The largest increase for this metric for District 91 was second-graders, who improved from 45% to 57% and in District 93, first-graders jumped from nearly 37% to 48%.

During an October State of the District address, District 91 Superintendent Jim Shank said student improvement was the district’s main emphasis on state tests.

“When students are moving up and forward, that’s a good thing,” Shank said during the address. “We’re looking at if (students) are moving level to level.”

Here are other notable statewide metrics Ybarra included in the release:

• Nearly 41% of kindergartners were assessed at grade level this fall, down from 43% in fall 2020. Another 29% tested as near grade level, with nearly 30% below grade level.

• In first grade, 46% of this fall’s students were at grade level, up from nearly 42% last fall. Another 28% tested as near grade level, with nearly 26% below grade level.

• About 57% of second-graders were reading at grade level, up from 54% in fall 2020. Another 20% tested as near grade level, with 22% below grade level.

• Over 59% of third-graders were reading at grade level, up from 58% last fall. Another 21% tested as near grade level, with 19% below grade level.

In fall 2019, the last Idaho Reading Indicator testing before COVID-19 hit, the percentage of students at grade level was 42% in kindergarten, nearly 49% in first grade, about 63% in second grade and 64% in third grade, the release said.

“Scores for first through third-graders still fall short of pre-pandemic levels, and that is not a surprise considering the learning loss caused by pandemic disruptions,” Ybarra said in the release. “But these latest results indicate we are making headway.”

District 93 Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme also pointed out school shutdowns causing lower scores in 2020 during the board meeting.

“No question that the school shutdown for two and a half months had an impact, but great to see that it looks like it was by and large a temporary setback and we’re getting right back on track this year,” Woolstenhulme said during the meeting.

The final fall 2021 Idaho Reading Indicator results include district and school-level results with a breakdown by student demographic groups. The results can be accessed on the state Department of Education website. More than 90,000 students across the state — a near 5% increase from last year’s total — took the fall 2021 test between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30, the release said. The test was administered in person to most students, but a remote option was available on request.

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