Approximately half of Idaho students in grades K-3 read below their grade level according to preliminary state test results.

Results for area school districts, St. Maries, Kootenai and Plummer-Worley, are mixed compared to the state average. One thing the districts have in common is a decrease in reading proficiency among grades K-3, based on fall 2019 and fall 2020 test results.

On average, 35.25 percent of St. Maries School District K-3 students read at grade level. At Lakeside, approximately 40 percent of K-3 students read at grade level. At Kootenai, approximately 69 percent of K-3 students read at grade level.

“For grades K-5, 70 percent of students tested at or above proficient on the IRI test this fall. This is much lower than last year. However, we saw an increased enrollment of out of district students in the elementary. In addition, the loss of face-to-face instruction last spring definitely had a negative impact on our students' learning,” Kootenai Superintendent Wade Pilloud said.

Local districts provided results for grades K-5. However, state results are only available for K-3 as of this publication. Proficiency among K-3 at Kootenai decreased from 78 percent to 69 percent in one year. Lower school population may be a factor in the above average results.

To improve results, Mr. Pilloud said the district identifies struggling students and sets aside 30-minutes per day to work with students to close the gap. Mr. Pilloud credited small class sizes with enabling the individualized approach.

“We expect to see substantial growth from this practice if we can continue to stay open with face-to-face learning in the classroom,” Mr. Pilloud said.

Plummer-Worley Superintendent Russ Mitchell said that his district has updated English Language Arts curriculum over the past year and continues to push for reading intervention groups despite COVID-19.

“These types of activities have to be balanced with the need to social distance. It’s a challenge but we have folks thinking outside the box and we will continue to hone our delivery systems to be as effective as possible,” Mr. Mitchell said.

St. Maries Superintendent Alica Holthaus said that missing a quarter of the school year played a factor in lower scores as well. She was optimistic that the decrease was not as bad as anticipated.

“They were predicting a one-year loss (in performance),” Ms. Holthaus said. “It wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be.”

Scores among St. Maries’ kindergartners improved approximately seven percent from the previous year. Ms. Holthaus attributed the improvement to the introduction of all-day kindergarten.

“You see growth but not at the same level, but we missed a quarter of the school year last year,” she said. “We are not where we want them to be.”

St. Maries Kindergarten reading proficiency has fluctuated over the past five years. The fall results for the 2017-2018 kindergarten class were slightly higher, at 33 percent. In 2018 and 2019, kindergarten scores decreased to 25 and 24 percent respectively.

K-3 students of the St. Maries School District tested lower than the state average at all grade levels. Compared to the statewide composite score, 49.6 percent, an average of 35.25 percent of St. Maries K-3 students read at grade level.

The largest disparity between the state and St. Maries occurred among third graders. Approximately 37 percent of St. Maries’ third grade students read at grade level. Statewide, 58.2 percent of third graders read at grade level.

St. Maries kindergarten students were 12.5 percent below the state kindergarten average. First graders were 12.7 percent below the state first grade average. Second graders were 10 percent below the state second grade average.

Reading proficiency is higher for St. Maries’ fourth and fifth grade students, 44 percent of fourth graders and 55 percent of fifth graders read at grade level. Again, state results were not provided for fourth and fifth grade. And those grades were not tested by the state or district before the fall of 2020.

Results for the spring of 2020 are not available because testing was not available due to COVID-19.

In addition to focusing on struggling students in school, superintendents said that family involvement can also make a difference.

“Families can help close their children's learning gap by making sure they get support for their homework at home, having their child read at home or even better; read to their children at home. They can also help by making sure they get enough sleep and eat a healthy breakfast every morning,” Mr. Pilloud said.

“We’ll teach them to read but they have to practice. It has to happen at home too,” Ms. Holthaus said.

She anticipates that reading scores will improve as students continue with face-to-face instruction again.

“Last year it looked like we were on track. I remember this feeling like ‘Yeah, we’re going in the right direction’ And then COVID hit…but that momentum is starting up again,” Ms. Holthaus said.

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