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For the week of Feb. 16 through Feb. 22, 2000

Local kindergartners need reading boost

Express Staff Writer

A majority of Idaho students in grades kindergarten through third read at expected levels, according to test scores released by the Idaho Department of Education last week.

One eyebrow-raising statistic to emerge from the scores from last fall’s test is that Blaine County youngsters starting kindergarten have weaker basic reading skills than their state counterparts.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Marilyn Howard released the first results from the pilot run of the Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI), a state-mandated assessment specified by the Idaho Comprehensive Literacy Plan.

The laws enacted by that plan last year require the state to test kindergartners through third-graders twice yearly to identify students reading below grade level. The test does not indicate whether students are reading above grade level.

Statewide, about 25 percent of students have fallen behind in their reading skills by third grade, according to the test, which was administered for the first time in the fall.

In Blaine County, about 31 percent of kindergartners showed reading skills below grade level. That number steadily fell for first- and second-graders, with about 20 percent of third-graders reading below grade level.

On average, 26 percent of K-3 students in Blaine County are reading below grade level, according to the test.

District testing director Blake Walsh said during a telephone interview that Blaine County’s scores compare favorably to state scores, especially considering that the district administered the test to students who speak predominantly Spanish—something the state did not require districts to do.

Of greater concern for Walsh is the large number of children who are entering kindergarten apparently lacking basic preliminary reading skills.

"It’s surprising in this county that parents aren’t preparing their children to read," Walsh said.

However, Walsh emphasized that schools won’t begin to have the full picture until results from the second IRI, given last month, come in.

"I think we need to know a lot more data and we need to see how our scores increased, hopefully, from fall to winter," Walsh said.

Statewide, Superintendent Howard seemed comfortable with the scores.

"The results from this pilot year are not surprising," Howard said in a press release. "We designed the scoring of the IRI to identify the lowest 25 percent as specified by law."

The purpose of collecting the data, according to Howard, is to help districts determine how teachers’ skills and resources can be used to increase learning opportunities for struggling readers.

Janet Cantor, a reading specialist at Hemingway Elementary School, called the IRI an "excellent test," during an interview at the school last Friday.

The school relies mostly on teacher referrals to determine which students need help, but last week’s scores, according to Cantor, brought to her attention an additional four or five children needing help.

The IRI scoring provides a wide range of useful information to educators. Some preliminary findings:

 Girls read better than boys at every grade level.

 White, black, Pacific Islanders and Asians score almost equally well at all grade levels, within a five-point spread.

 Students have trouble with the IRI when English is not their first language or when their families move often.

 More than half of the state’s limited-English-proficient and migrant students are among the students scoring below grade level.

 Although staying in school helps limited-English-proficient and migrant students, they still are disproportionately represented in the students reading below grade level.

The department of education plans to use scores from January’s IRI to determine the amount of funds it will earmark for helping students who struggle with reading.


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