A number of factors have fueled the recent resurgence in early reading, according to several school leaders, from day-care programs and increased reading resources to easing pandemic protocols for students and teachers.
Fewer “distractions and precautions” from COVID-19 kept more students in the classroom last school year, a driving force for the Rockland district, Superintendent Greg Larson said.
Rockland was among the state highest performance spring 2022 Idaho Reading Indicator, a screening for students in kindergarten through third grade. Elementary students take the test in the fall and again in the spring to measure growth. Last school year, Rockland led the state in recruiting growth during that period.
The rise in scores in the state came after a two-year battle with the pandemic. Spring skill points fell down by a statewide average of 4.5 percentage points from 2019 to 2021, as school closures and the shift to online learning — and back — plagued faculty and students. Leaders suspended IRI in the spring of 2020 as schools went online during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Autumn-spring of the last academic year increase highlights the typical phenomenon that most elementary students improve in reading over the course of the school year, and the IRI numbers generally reflect this. But last school year’s increase nearly restored spring scores to pre-pandemic levels. Like Rockland, most Idaho districts and charters posted double-digit gains from fall to spring.
The latest figures show some correlation with daycare programs popping up all over the state in recent years. But when asked about what happened last school year, some local leaders pointed to several factors.
EdNews broke down the latest promotions and asked the leaders of the schools with the biggest jumps what motivated them. Here’s a look at who saw the biggest gains and what some local leaders had to say:
Last school year, most districts and charters increased
Overall, 130 of the 155 districts and charters had at least a 10 percentage point increase in reading proficiency from fall to spring last school year.
The top 10 producers increased by more than 30 percentage points.
Here are the top 10, along with their enrollment and their percentage increase from fall to spring:
- Rockland (178 students): 37.7%
- Cottonwood (435 students): 37.7%
- Soda Springs (927 students): 35.7%
- Border District (1,436 students): 35.4%
- Culdesac Joint: (129): 33.2%
- Troy: (297 students): 32.7%
- Heritage Community Charter (496 students): 32.6%
- Aberdeen (698 students): 31.5%
- Council (328 students): 32.4%
- Camas County (179 students): 31.2%
Click here to look at IRI growth across all districts and charters over the past school year.
Several factors contributed to the rise in scores
In Rockland, a remote area in southeastern Idaho, only 45 students passed the IRI this spring. This is another factor that may have contributed to the sharp jump, as smaller student sample sizes are more likely to see a dramatic effect on grade point averages than larger ones.
Still, Superintendent Larson cited several factors behind the unprecedented improvement last school year, from state literacy training for teachers to more targeted funds.
And for Rockland, additional funds came in many forms.
In March lawmakers put $72 million into the state’s literacy program, a one-year increase of $46 million. Schools can use the money for start-up or maintenance Kindergarten programs throughout the day, but they shouldn’t. They can also hire reading coaches, start summer programs, or use other targeted approaches.
But the state’s latest infusion of literacy dollars came just weeks before Idaho’s 90,682 K-3 students took the IRI in the spring. Larson acknowledged the local influx of funds for improvements in his area.
“Additional aid for early literacy has been a focus of our supplemental levy each year,” he told EdNews, adding that the district also sent two of its elementary teachers to state literacy training. “I have seen improved learning and marked student progress compared to previous years in these classrooms.”
Soda Springs Elementary School Principal Rod Worthington acknowledged the additional funding from the state, but pointed first to a schoolwide intervention program for struggling readers. Last school year, the process allowed teachers to work with students “week by week and month by month, one student at a time.” The school has also set aside more time for teachers to meet and plan the “best strategies” to help each struggling student. Increased literacy funding from the state has helped the district hire additional staff focused on the individual needs of each student, Worthington added.
Boundary County Superintendent Jan Bayer said her district’s success started with “high reading goals in our continuous improvement plan,” but she also pointed to several other factors:
- There is a full-day kindergarten in the district, which operates on a 4-day school week.
- The new reading intervention, purchased with an infusion of federal funds, includes an “interactive online learning component” for students.
- More professional development for teachers and paraprofessionals aimed at enabling them to “use increased literacy tools” to continue offering the district’s full-day kindergarten.
Principals in the Cottonwood and Culdesac school districts did not respond to questions about the increase in their scores.
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