Sunday, October 8, 2017

HOW RESEARCH IMPACTS
 INSTRUCTION IN THE BOISE DISTRICT

Findings from educational research drive instruction in the Boise School District. The District's comprehensive professional development program includes research-based strategies such as 

WICOR (Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization, and Reading to Learn), the basis for AVID and many district-wide practices
Engaging Qualities - research from the late Philip Schlecty, author of numerous research articles and "Working on the Work" and the promotion of an engaging culture in classrooms.
Depth of Knowledge - Dr. Norman Webb, explores cognitive complexity, transfer of knowledge, forming generalizations, and background knowledge, among other issues in teaching.
Growth Mindsets, Dr, Carol Dweck, exploring fixed and growth mindsets, and how they affect teaching and learning.
Mathematical Mindsets, Dr. Jo Boaler, Stanford researcher and professor

These are just a sampling of the programs provided for Boise teachers. Many other content-specific opportunities are also available as well. 

However, the foundation for professional development in the District is the work of two acclaimed educational researchers, Dr. Richard Dufour and Dr. Robert Marzano.

Dufour, who passed away in 2017, was the acclaimed principal of Stevenson High School in Illinois, and later Superintendent of the Lincolnshire District. His work on development of collaborative cultures in schools is highlighted in "Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement", the basis for the development of "PLC" teams at schools across the country. The Boise District has embraced the PLC concept, and provided important district-wide training in the development of collaborative culture. In Praise of American Educators, his 2015 book, is viewed as a classic among educators already. Here is a short video featuring Dufour.

Marzano's book Classroom Instruction that Worksthe basis of much professional development in the District and across the country, and his Nine High-Yield Instructional Strategies are research-based practices in regular use by our teachers. Marzano is among the most respected educational researchers in the field.

Marzano's work has yielded some similar recommendations to that of John Hattie, whose 2009 book Visible Learning revealed the results of a massive "meta-meta-analysis" of over 800 studies, and provided a list of practices identified as most effective, using an "effect-size" analysis. 

For example, Marzano identifies "Cooperative Learning" as an important strategy as does Hattie. "Remediation Feedback" as identified by Hattie is similar to "Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback" from Marzano , and "Concept Mapping" in Hattie's work is similar to Marzano's "Nonlinguistic Representations".

Hattie emphasizes Spaced Practice, which is  "frequency of different learning opportunities; three to four exposures to learning over several days before learning occurs, and spacing the practice of skills over a long period of time". One of Marzano's strategies is "Homework and Practice" on a regular basis. Boise teachers use these methodologies on a regular basis.

Of course, any research is subject to criticism as to specific conclusions the researcher draws. For example, Hattie's research methodology, evidence, and conclusions have drawn fire from researchers  (here and here, for example), and Marzano's evaluation system has been the subject of ire from some writers; however, both are respected researchers.

Research-Based Strategies and Instructional Time

It's important to note that effective use of the strategies recommended by educational researchers is dependent on other factors, one of which is time. Each of the strategies is designed to facilitate maximal use of classroom instructional time. The District's Calendar Committee recommended with its calendar proposal to increase instructional time in the second semester by almost two weeks. Even though several of those days are now taken up by SBAC testing, effective use of the strategies will provide additional essential learning time for Boise students.

A Note on the "Summer Slide"

In our last post, we wrote about "summer slide" and its effects on students, particularly on struggling readers. For those who want to learn more about the phenomenon and what to do about it, here are two articles:


1) Richard Allington, author of "Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap"
 responds to questions about "Summer Slide". in this interview from the School Library Journal.

As Allington notes:

"We also know that children from low-income families routinely lose two to three months of reading proficiency every summer while middle-class children gain about a month. This creates a three to four month gap every summer. From grade one to nine children from low-income families lose two or more years of reading proficiency, during the summers when school is not in session."

2) "How to Prevent Summer Learning Loss"  is a blog post by Valerie Strauss, author of the Answer Sheet in the Washington Post. Here Linda B. Gambrell, Distinguished Professor of Education in the Eugene T. Moore School of Education at Clemson University, and former president of the International Reading Association answers questions about the topic.










Monday, October 2, 2017

BOISE DISTRICT SCHOOL CALENDAR
PROPOSAL TO BE CONSIDERED IN OCTOBER

Each year, the Boise School District Calendar Committee recommends a calendar for the following school year to the Board of Trustees at their regularly scheduled October 9 Board Meeting.  


This past year, as part of that process, the Calendar Committee looked at the potential of adopting a calendar that would end the first semester prior to the Winter Holiday Break and the school year prior to the Memorial Day weekend.  This proposal was made for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:


  • Students would be able to complete End of Course Assessments prior to their break, allowing them to rest and not worry about studying for finals or completing projects;
  • Students would get a fresh start for second semester after the break.
  • Teachers would be able to be more efficient with instruction, preventing the need in January to re-teach material due.
  • Allow students to have more days of instruction before standardized and Advanced Placement testing in the spring;
  • Mirror what is done at most colleges and universities with first semester ending before Winter Holiday Break and second semester starting after;
  • Eliminate days from the District Calendar that traditionally have poor attendance. The District’s traditional calendar ends the school year in early June.  By ending school prior to Memorial Day weekend, we ensure that we receive maximum funding from the State for instructional purposes.

After careful consideration of more than 11 versions of potential calendars, the Calendar Committee surveyed staff, parents and patrons to gauge their level of support for the new calendar.  We wrote about the results of that survey in our June 13, 2017 blog post.  In summary, the results of the poll showed that 85% of Boise District patrons and staff were in favor of a proposal in which first semester would end prior to the Winter Holiday Break and the school year would end the weekend before the Memorial Day holiday.  The survey included responses from 4,991 individuals,  1,706 of which were Boise School District staff and and 3,285 that were from patrons and parents.


With this response, the calendar committee proceeded with developing a 2018-2019 school year calendar that would accomplish the very clear objective of ending the first semester prior to the Winter Holiday Break.  

Support for Ending the First Semester Prior to the Winter Holiday Break, but Not for an Earlier Start Date
During the course of the summer, an online campaign titled Save Idaho Summers was started by a water park in Meridian, to oppose an earlier August start date.  Following the start of that campaign, the District began receiving feedback from constituents opposed to the new calendar.  As a result of that feedback, the District launched an online public comment page on our website in August and held two focus groups in September. While it was clear that there was considerable support for ending the first semester prior to the Winter Holiday Break, many patrons did not want to start the school year earlier.

A Compromise Calendar Developed

With that in mind, the Boise School District Calendar Committee has proposed a modified calendar that will allow us to respect the overwhelming support to end the first semester prior to the Winter Holiday Break, yet maintain the traditional school start date after the third weekend in August.


We were able to accomplish this by:


  • Eliminating the October In-Service Days and making those days instructional days.
    • In considering this change, it is important to remember that the state does not mandate in-service days. Historically, many schools have set aside the first Thursday and Friday of October for staff development to allow their staff to attend regional and state in-service meetings.
    • Moving forward, staff who want to attend state conferences on those days will be able to submit for a professional leave day.


  • Adding two teacher contract days, dedicated to classroom preparation and professional development, prior to the start of school to offset the loss of October In-Service day.


  • Establishing a calendar that has fewer days in the first semester than the second semester.
    • A slightly longer second semester will increase instructional days previously lost to end-of-year activities and to mandated standardized testing.


In reviewing several alternatives, the Calendar Committee believes that the latest proposed calendar contains many benefits for students, including:


  • Optimizes instructional time in October by providing more consistency in instructional days
  • Protects the full week of Thanksgiving Break. Experience shows that by only taking two and half days at Thanksgiving results in poor attendance due to families traveling and would not be beneficial from an instructional or financial point of view.
  • Ends the school year prior to the Memorial Day weekend


Suggestion to Start School After Labor Day Raises Serious Concerns

After the District released information regarding the compromise Calendar, some patrons insisted that the District adopt a calendar that starts the school year after Labor Day.  In order to accomplish this, the District  would have to lengthen the school day or extend the school year later into June. There are a number of reasons why this idea raises concerns:


  • Loss of educational information -- according to the National Summer Learning Association, students can lose up to three months of Math and Reading skills over the course of the summer (often referred to as “Summer Slide”). Extending the length of the Summer Vacation worsens this issue and has a disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable students.  


  • Increased financial burden for parents -- extending the length of the summer has a significant financial impact on parents who pay for daycare during the summer months.


  • Loss of safety and security -- for many of our students, school is the safest place they can go. Longer summer breaks are not in the best interest of students living in poverty for a number of reasons, including access to healthy and reliable breakfasts and lunch programs.


  • Reduction in quality instructional time -- starting after Labor Day reduces the number of instructional days students have prior to end-of-year state controlled testing dates (ISAT and IRI) and College Board mandated Advanced Placement (AP) exam dates.  Extending school into mid-June would result in a significant amount of instructional time taking place after those exams.


Thanks to the work of our staff and the input from our parents, we believe that the Board will be able to consider a proposed calendar that truly has the best interests of our students -- of all backgrounds -- and our community as a whole, in mind.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

THIS AND THAT FOR SEPTEMBER

Here are some interesting September education reads from around the web:

This is the Way the College Bubble Ends; Not with a Pop but a Hiss, by Derek Thompson for The Atlantic.  Thompson writes about the multiple causes of decreases in college enrollment, using a series of charts to illustrate his points. He indicates:

"For decades, population growth after World War II fed the demand for new colleges. But with a relatively strong economy, combined with political and social pressure to restrain tuition growth, colleges are finding it hard to attract students at an ever-rising price point. Last year was the worst year for school closings this century."

Here's another article by Thompson in the Atlantic, entitled The Myth of American Colleges as Inequality-Fighters, in which the author writes about the fiction surrounding American Colleges' role in creating upward mobility. A quote from the article:

"Poor students who graduate from Ivy League universities (and their equivalents like Stanford, Duke, and MIT) have a much better shot at entering the top 1 percent than low-income graduates of other colleges. But these hyper-selective schools are also hyper-elite. A child from the richest 1 percent of families is 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy (or an equally selective college) than a child from a family in the poorest quintile."

Michigan Gambled on Its Charter Schools. Its Children Lost by Mark Binelli for the New York Times. This is a very long, fascinating article about the evolution of charter schools in the state of Michigan, and the effect on public schools and children around the state.

Binelli writes: "In reality, however, a 2017 Stanford University analysis found that increasing charter-school enrollment in a school district does little to improve achievement gaps. And in unregulated educational sectors like Michigan’s, there’s evidence that charters have actually increased inequality: A 2015 working paper by the Education Policy Center determined that Michigan’s school-choice policies “powerfully exacerbate the financial pressures of declining-enrollment districts” — and districts with high levels of charter-school penetration, the authors found, have fared worst of all."

We've referenced Gary Rubinstein's blog before. In this post, Underachievement School District Superintendent Resigns In Disgrace, he provides a brief history of the Achievement Schools District in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the most ballyhooed charter experiments of the recent past.

"Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools - That's a Mistake" is another Atlantic article, this one by Erika Christakis. She writes abut the prevailing negative attitude about public schools, but disputes much of the evidence behind such attitudes. For example, on unions protecting bad teachers:

"But unions are not the bogeyman we’re looking for. According to “The Myth of Unions’ Overprotection of Bad Teachers,” a well-designed study by Eunice S. Han, an economist at the University of Utah, school districts with strong unions actually do a better job of weeding out bad teachers and retaining good ones than do those with weak unions. This makes sense. If you have to pay more for something, you are more likely to care about its quality; when districts pay higher wages, they have more incentive to employ good teachers (and dispense with bad ones)."

And, finally, a post from the Integrated Schools blog, written by the founder of the organization. Civics, Community, and Allyship: Why We Chose Our Local Public School. It's a good read, and provides a perpsective from folks who have chosen their local public school. One quote from the post:

"Here’s why we CHOSE this school.

Because it IS a good school, with loving parents, teachers, and administrators. Without the glossy brochures, the extra fancy professional development, the “team-building.”

Because there is no lottery, no admissions process, no wait list. No back door secret enrollment policies. You live in this neighborhood; this school belongs to you.

Because it is a school brimming with potential and excellence, despite many families and people in our neighborhood who ignore it or don’t consider it worth attending and supporting"






Wednesday, August 30, 2017


2017 ADVANCED PLACEMENT UPDATE:
WHICH HIGH SCHOOLS PROVIDE 
ACCESS TO RIGOR?


Each year, we update the data from the College Board's Advanced Placement Program for the State of Idaho and for school districts and high schools. Advanced Placement coursework is the "gold standard" for rigor in high schools around the country.  Advanced Placement is by far the most popular program, and offers an unmatched set of challenging courses from which students can choose. 

Statewide AP Data

Here's the percentage of statewide AP exams given in districts around the state:


As you can see, Boise gave over a third of statewide exams, while enrolling about 9% of the state's students. In fact, Boise and West Ada (which has expanded its program recently) gave over half the exams in the state.

Insofar as student participation is concerned, here is the same comparison:



Again, Boise students took almost 30% of the statewide exams, with 9% of the students.


High School AP Exams and Senior Enrollment

However, a better way to judge whether students have access to and take advantage of rigorous coursework is to look at AP exams in comparison to enrollment in the district or for a particular high school. Let's have a look at the high school data.

The Washington Post's Challenge Index looks at data submitted by high schools around the country, and uses a ratio system to rank their efforts with rigor. It's a pretty simple comparison - the number of AP or IB exams given divided by the number of senior class graduates - if the ratio is higher than 1.0, the schools makes the list. For our comparison, we used the senior class enrollment for fall, 2016 (State Department of Education data) and AP exams (State Board of Education data).



Timberline and Boise were basically in a dead heat in 2017 in this comparison - Timberline's student participation grew significantly from 2016. Next was McCall, which has a thriving small-district AP program, followed by Capital and Wood River (Blaine County).

Ridgevue is the Vallivue District's new high school (pretty amazing participation for a first-year school) Borah and Century (Pocatello) have long been fixtures on the Washington Post list, and are followed closely by Centennial (West Ada). Especially interesting are Vallivue, Caldwell  and Columbia (Nampa), three high schools with very high rates of free/reduced lunch, which nonetheless had relatively high exam numbers.

One special note - Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy is a charter school in northern Idaho, located within the boundaries of the Coeur d'Alene District. The school is not a comprehensive high school in our definition - percentages of free/reduced and Special Education students are quite low, and student enrollment numbers decline significantly as respective cohorts progress through the grades, so we have not included them in the charts. Nonetheless, it's important to note that CDA charter would be near the top in these charts if it was included.

Student Participation

We've struggled with how to characterize AP student participation. At one point, we used the total number of students divided by enrollment of juniors and seniors, but more and more sophomores are taking the exams. We thought about the four-year high school enrollment (used by the Idaho High School Activities Association for classification purposes), but very few 9th graders take AP exams in Idaho. Eventually, we settled on AP student participation divided by the number of enrolled sophs, juniors and seniors.



Again, Boise and Timberline have nearly 50% of students taking exams, followed by McCall-Donnelly at 39%. Then, within a couple of percentage points are Wood River, Century, Borah and Capital with about 1/3 of students participating. Centennial and Ridgevue are next, with another 11 schools between 21% and 15%. 

At one time, Advanced Placement coursework was reserved for the small number of students who met a "cutoff score" on an assessment, as identified by districts or schools. With the adoption of the AVID program and a new philosophy of encouragement for students wanting tot take the AP challenge, the percentage of students taking at least one exam has changed. Using our new standard of  exam participants divided by 10th-12th enrollment, here's what we have seen in Boise.



A significant change, to be sure. Many more Boise students are taking advantage of the opportunity to experience rigorous coursework and take challenging, college-level assessments. 

Next, a look behind the Advanced Placement exam numbers in the Boise District.







IRI READING READINESS SCORES 
ON 5-YEAR SLIDE


The Fall Kindergarten administration of the Idaho Reading Indicator is often used as a gauge for the reading preparation of  Idaho's youngsters as they enter school. The assessment, which measures letter identification and letter-sound recognition, is a simple screener administered individually to students  at the beginning of the school year.

For the past five years, the percentage of students identified by the Fall kindergarten IRI as "ready to read" has decreased. Over that period of time, the percentage has declined from 56.1% to 51.4%. That may not seem like much of a drop, but it means over 1,700 fewer students entered kindergarten "ready to read" than did in 2012-13. The percentage of "economically disadvantaged" proficient kindergartners declined even more steeply, from 43% to 37.2%.




In fact, analysis of the same pattern for the 20 largest districts in the state shows the same trend - every one of the districts saw a decline in fall kindergarten proficiency percentages over the last five years.



These twenty districts enroll about 2/3 of the state's kindergartners each year. You can see that there is a substantial difference between the districts that have relatively high preparation levels - West Ada, Boise, Madison, and those with preparation levels that are really very low - Caldwell, Jerome, Blackfoot, Minidoka County.

However, most districts have at least a few elementary schools, where very few students arrive prepared for reading. In 2016, there were examples across the state of schools where few of the kindergartners are prepared- from Sacajawea (27%) to Lewis and Clark (18%) and Washington (16%) in Caldwell, to American Falls (18%), to Central (28%) in Nampa, Falls Valley (38%) in Bonneville, Erickson (22%) in Idaho Falls, Dworshak (28%) in Cassia County, Paul (24%) in Minidoka County, Jefferson and Koelsch (39%) in Boise, Centennial and Whitman (Lewiston) 39%, and many more.

It seems clear that the issue of kindergarten preparation is becoming more critical as each year passes. It's time to look at a pilot of Pre-K in Idaho schools which have the greatest need. If just 10-20 schools have the opportunity to implement Pre-K, it will give the state a chance to evaluate progress and see if a difference can be made for students in Idaho. Given our experience at Hawthorne and Whitney, we think it will.

Monday, August 21, 2017

WHY CONSIDERING STUDENT MOBILITY IS IMPORTANT FOR THE IRI (AND EVERY OTHER ACCOUNTABILITY MEASURE)



In 2002, the Idaho Comprehensive Literacy Plan law was modified in Senate Bill 1412 to include a provision that only students who were enrolled 90% of the schools day between fall and spring IRI testing were to be counted for purposes of goal attainment on the IRI. The change was made so that schools and teachers were not held accountable in a given year for kids who showed up a week before the test, for example. The new provision was in place until SB 1614 was put in place last year - the new law had no provision for considering mobility.

The State Department of Education recently provided data to school districts about student mobility, which has been very helpful. However,  the public site which has IRI data dating back to 2006 does not include any consideration of student mobility.

So why is this important? Let's take a look at the data for 2 Boise schools, using cohort IRI data.

The Assessment

First, it's important to understand the scoring of the IRI. The test is administered on an individual basis in fall and spring of a given year by trained administrators (often former teachers), and takes between 15 and 25 minutes for most students. The results are scored on a 3 point scale.  A score of "3" is considered "proficient", "2" is basic, and "1" is below basic. The IRI does not measure "above grade level" skill in reading.

The kindergarten assessment is meant to measure growth in letter naming and letter sound fluency. In first grade, letter - sound fluency is measured in the fall along with fluent reading on a basic passage. Beginning in the spring of first grade, each assessment measures reading fluency - fluent reading rate on increasingly complex passages.

Mobility Case Studies

For these studies, we looked at 2013 fall kindergarten and 2017 spring 3rd grade data, and analyzed the changes in student population and IRI performance.

Horizon Elementary

Horizon Elementary is a large elementary school on the Boise bench which has high mobility and about 66% free and reduced lunch. Horizon was built in 1992 to relieve overcrowding in Boise's West End.

In the fall of 2013, Horizon had 115 kindergartners, each of whom took the Idaho Reading Indicator. Of that total group, 50% scored at "grade level" ( a score of "3"). The statewide fall kindergarten "at grade level" percentage was 54.5%.

We wanted to know how many of those kindergartners were still around in the spring of 3rd grade, and how they did on the IRI.




In the fall of 2013, 115 kindergartners took the Idaho Reading Indicator at Horizon. Half of those students were ready to read, according to the IRI, 5% fewer than in the state as a whole. Of those students, 49 (43%) were still at Horizon in the spring of 3rd grade. Of those 49, 81% were at grade level on the spring 3rd grade IRI, 6% better than the state average. 66 of the original 115 (57%) were no longer enrolled at Horizon.


Of the 66 students who moved, 23 did so within the Boise District. 36 moved within the state of Idaho (16 to West Ada), and 7 moved out of state.

In the spring of 2017, there were 49 third graders who had moved in since kindergarten. 16 had moved from another Boise school, 22 came from within the state (14 from West Ada), and 11 came from outside the state of Idaho. One student arrived during kindergarten, 7 arrived during 1st grade, 14 during 2nd grade, and 27 during third grade.  67% of the "new" students scored at grade level on the IRI at the end of third grade.

Roosevelt Elementary

Roosevelt is an elementary school of about 300 students in northeast Boise just off of Warm Springs Avenue. Roosevelt had a free/reduced lunch percentage of 18% in May, 2017. The school was originally built in 1920 and received a complete renovation in 2010.

In fall, 2013, 40 kindergartners took the IRI at Roosevelt. 92% of those students scored at grade level on the assessment. In spring of 3rd grade, 27 of those students (68%) were still enrolled at Roosevelt. 96% of those remaining scored a "3" on the spring 3rd grade IRI.



13 students (32%) transferred after the kindergarten assessment. Of those students, 8 changed schools within the District, 2 within the state, and 3 moved to homeschooling or to a charter.


Twenty-one (21) students came to Roosevelt during or after kindergarten. Of those students, 7 came from within the District, 5 came from in-state (4 from West Ada), and 9 came from outside the state (4 from California).  Two came during kindergarten, 7 in first grade, 6 in second grade, and 3 in the third grade. 91% of these students scored at "grade level on the IRI in spring of 3rd grade.

The Point of All This

We live in a tremendously mobile society. Teachers are faced with the enormous task of dealing with constant mobility among their students. At Horizon, for example, a "cohort" of students may actually feature more than 50% mobility from grades k-3. Sp over half the students in kindergarten will transfer during that period of time, and will be replaced by other students moving into the school. Some students may attend 4 or 5 schools during that time.

Apart from the challenges of socialization for so many students, starting and stopping at a number of schools often affects achievement among those kids. But since we have no control over the movement of families and students, the least we can do is to consider the achievement of students who are non-mobile. At Horizon, for example, 81% of non-mobile students were at grade level in spring of 3rd grade - in kindergarten, the percentage was 50 - truly remarkable growth. For Roosevelt, the percentage of non-mobile students who were at grade level at the end of 3rd grade was 96% - up four percent from kindergarten.

The fact that consideration of mobility is no longer a part of the IRI legislation is truly unfortunate. The old law required that it be considered each year. It's really not fair to hold teachers and schools accountable for the achievement of students who moved in just before the test, whether they achieved at grade level or below. If they continue in the school, then it makes sense - this kind of consideration of mobility is part of the federal testing requirement for ESSA - it should be for state assessments, as well.




Sunday, August 20, 2017

IDAHO READING INDICATOR
GROWTH IN COHORT PERCENTAGE OF 
"GRADE LEVEL" READERS

The Idaho Reading Indicator has been around for a while. The K-3 screener originated after a 1997 Reading Study Committee's findings led to the passage of the Idaho Comprehensive Literacy Act in 1999. The Literacy Act mandated training for pre-service and practicing teachers, provided funding for remediation, and established a reading assessment to be given twice a year to all students in grades k, 1, 2, and 3.

In 2001, legislation sponsored by senator Darrel Diede (R-Caldwell) passed the legislature and was signed by the Governor. SB 1116 set goals for the percentage of students, including that 85% of 3rd graders would read at grade level as determined by the IRI by 2006.

The "New" Law

In 2016, a new bill was passed, and became Idaho Code 33-1614. The law contained this language:

"Each school district shall report to the state department of education by October 1 of each year. The report shall contain the following information on the prior school year:

(a)  By grade, the number and percentage of all students in grades K-3 performing at the basic or below basic level on local and statewide assessments in reading; and

(b)  By grade, the number and percentage of all students in grades K-3 performing at the proficient or higher level on local and statewide assessments in reading."

Idaho Board Rule 08.02.01.801 set goals for schools based on the law, and specified that "year over year" comparisons be made:

"Statewide Trajectory Growth Targets

Statewide trajectory annual growth targets are based on aggregated student performance on the spring administration of the statewide reading assessments. Local growth targets are set by the LEA based on the LEA’s available resources and student demographics. Statewide trajectory growth targets indicated the statewide goal for year over year increases in the percentage of students reading at grade".

The comparisons, then, are of the combined percentage of students reading at or below grade level for kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade in a given year for schools, districts, and for the state. So four different groups of students are combined and compared in a "year over year" fashion.

Recently, Idaho Education News, in accordance with the new law and rule, ran an article portraying the overall "percent at grade level" for districts on last spring's IRI testing and compared it with the percentage from 2016. Unfortunately, the overall percentage of K-3 "at grade level" students does not accurately reflect growth on the IRI, and is an inappropriate measure of progress.

Why? Well, because fall and spring percentages of "on grade level" reading on the IRI vary widely, and are always lower after kids come back from the summer break and take the fall test.  Presumably the fall measure reflects expectations for the next grade level, but the drops in percentages are also presumably due to "summer loss" among the student population, and especially among students who have less access to literacy-rich environments during the summer.

To illustrate, here is a "cohort" chart of the percentage of students at "grade level" on the IRI for the 2017 3rd grade class in 5 urban districts and in the state of Idaho.



The marker for the state of Idaho is the green circle. Note that about 55% of the state's kindergartners scored a "3" on the IRI in the fall of 2013, and 79% were at that level the next spring. But when they came back for first grade? Only 62% were at grade level. If you follow the cohort you will see the peaks during the school year and valleys into fall testing, and that  to the end of 3rd grade (far right) you'll see that 75% of the cohort students were at grade level - 21% higher than in the fall of kindergarten. 

Large District Cohort Performance

The next chart shows the cohort growth percentage for the 3rd grade classes of 2016 and 2017 for the 20 largest school districts in the state.



The data in the chart are sorted by the 2013 fall kindergarten percentage of "grade level" scores on the IRI, from highest to lowest. Note that:


  1. As a general rule, districts that had higher percentages of cohort  "grade level" scores in fall of kindergarten have lower growth percentages. This makes sense, in that there are fewer kids who are not reading at grade level, so it's more difficult to make substantial progress. So, for example, Caldwell's fall 2013 K "grade level" percentage was 30% (!), while West Ada's was 70% - much more room to grow in Caldwell (though their growth percentage of 31% is amazing).
  2. Districts up north (Lakeland, Post Falls, Coeur d'Alene) have few Limited English students. Limited English students, who are learning a new language and  learning to read - often progress much more slowly.
It makes far more sense, then, to look at cohort growth from fall  of kindergarten to spring of 3rd grade on the IRI when evaluating whether districts are making progress, while considering the above factors, than to calculate the overall percentages for k-3 and compare "year over year" performance. 

Rural District Performance

The Ed News article was titled "Reading Scores Suggest a Widening Urban Rural Gap". When we look at the scores of cohort groups, is that the case?


Well, not really. The same pattern exists here - as a general rule, districts that start with a percentage of "grade level" Kindergartners make less growth than districts that start out lower. 

The Mobility Effect

Even though the cohort method of evaluating IRI progress is better than the "year over year" method prescribed by the new reading law, it suffers from a shortcoming that all assessments bear - family mobility in our society is quite high, and it disproportionally affects achievement in schools with a high percentage of low income students . It's also not accounted for in IRI calculations.

We'll have a look at that phenomenon in the next post.