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News >  Pacific NW

How did the pandemic affect learning in Idaho? This indicator shows a small regression

UPDATED: Tue., July 6, 2021

By Becca Savransky Idaho Statesman

The share of Idaho students in grades K-3 reading at grade level decreased this year compared to 2019, according to test results released by the State Department of Education.

The results from the Idaho Reading Indicator showed about 65.1% of students in kindergarten through third grade were reading at grade level at the end of the 2021 academic year. In 2019, about 69.7% of students in those grades were reading at grade level, a difference of 4.6 percentage points.

“The percentage of students reading at grade level was lower this spring than it was in spring 2019, but this is a different cohort of students, facing unprecedented challenges during a pandemic that stretched on for more than a year,” Kevin Whitman, director of assessment and accountability for SDE, said in a statement.

Across Idaho, 87,538 students took the assessment in May. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted testing, so 2019 is the last year all students in grades K-3 took the assessment.

Given the challenges of the pandemic, officials painted the results in a positive light, saying far more students were reading at grade level at the end of the year than at the beginning.

At the beginning of the yearwhen students took the assessment, about 50% of all K-3 students scored as reading at grade level, 26% were reading near grade level and 24.4% were reading below grade level.

In the spring, the percentage reading at grade level rose, while the share of students reading near grade level dropped to 19.4% and the share reading below grade level dropped to 15.5%.

“That’s an improvement of about 15 percentage points from the fall, showing that our teachers effectively used results from the start of the school year to identify areas where individual intervention or additional instruction was needed,” state Superintendent Sherri Ybarra said in a statement.

“Now our districts and schools are focused on addressing the effects of any unfinished learning going into this summer and the next school year, making sure students learn to read by third grade so they can read to learn for the rest of their lives.”

Throughout the pandemic, districts across the state transitioned between remote, hybrid and full in-person learning models.

After the difficult year, officials expected there would be some drop in the test results when compared to the years before the pandemic.

The scores from this past year – as they have previously – showed significant discrepancies across demographics. Among white students, 69.3% were reading at grade level at the end of the year. Among Black students, about 47.1% were reading at grade level, and among Hispanic or Latino students, about 50% were.

About 43% of students experiencing homelessness scored as reading at grade level and about 30.6% of students with disabilities.

About 61% of kindergartners, 59.5% of first graders, 69.2% of second graders and 70.1% of third graders were reading at grade level, according to the spring results.

In the West Ada School District, about 77.5% of students were reading at grade level at the end of the year, a few percentage points lower than the 80.3% reading at grade level at the end of 2019. The share of students at grade level in that district was also higher than the state average.

“Kindergarten and first grade both improved reading proficiency from fall to spring by 22%,” said Char Jackson, chief communication officer for the school district, in an email. “On average, the rate of improvement in grade level reading proficiency was 17.7% for West Ada this year. In light of the difficulties we all faced in the past months, we are extraordinarily proud of the hard work and dedication of our teachers, students and parents this school year.”

In the Boise School District, a slightly larger percentage of students were reading at grade level at the end of the year, when compared to 2019. In the spring of 2019, 65.7% of students in grades K-3 were reading at grade level. In the spring of this past year, 66.3% of students were reading at grade level.

“Given the ever-changing educational environment our students and our teachers faced during the pandemic, we are pleased with the IRI results and that we were able to effectively balance student and staff safety with academic growth during the 2020-21 school year,” said Dan Hollar, public affairs administrator with the Boise School District, in an email.

The district did not see as large of a jump in the share of kids reading at grade level between the fall and the spring when compared to the rest of the state. In the fall of 2020, about 61.1% of students in grades K-3 were reading at grade level – which was greater than the statewide percentage.

Among students in kindergarten, the percent of students reading at grade level actually dropped between the fall and spring from 63% to 59.4%.

Among all other grade levels in the Boise School District, those numbers improved from fall to spring.For first graders, 53% were reading at grade level in the fall and that number jumped to 61% in the spring. Second graders saw a similar increase from 62% to 71.5%. Among third graders, the percent of students reading at grade level went up from 66.2% to 72.6%.

“While we made our goals in nearly every grade, the impact the pandemic has had on student learning is still unclear,” Hollar said. “It’s not easy for anyone, particularly some of our youngest learners, to go from virtual, to hybrid to in-person and stay focused.”

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