Wednesday, November 18, 2015


The Idaho Reading Indicator

Idaho's assessment of student reading ability is known as the Idaho Reading Indicator. It's been around for 15 years now, and has been revised a couple of times. The IRI is a quick, fifteen to twenty minute assessment that was originally written to be consistent with reading research from the University of Oregon into the development of curriculum-based measurement systems.

The IRI was originally developed after a legislative interim committee met and IC-33-1614 was passed. The law called for the testing of children in kindergarten and in grades 1,2,and 3 at least twice a year. Recent IRI results for every district in the state by grade level are available, as are archived results of the fall and spring administrations of the IRI back to the 2001-02 school year.

Student IRI performance is classified in one of three scoring categories: "3" - Benchmark (at grade level), "2" - Strategic (near grade level), or "1" - Intensive (below grade level). Though many students score well above the cutoff for a score of "3", IRI scores are intended only to reflect grade level performance, and not to differentiate among students scoring above the cutoff.

IRI Outcomes

Idaho students have consistently shown growth in IRI reading performance over time in grades k-3. In fact, by using Fall kindergarten IRI and Spring 3rd grade IRI results, we can examine results for a cohort of Idaho students, as long as we understand that there is considerable mobility among the student population.

These data do not account for student mobility, since they are point-in-time indicators of Fall k and Spring 3rd IRI percentages, and would not account for student mobility between grade levels. However, here are the data for the 3rd grade class of 2015, for seven school districts and for the state of Idaho:

When the IRI was administered to the 3rd grade class of 2015 in the fall of their kindergarten year, 56% of the group scored a "3" on the test across the state of Idaho. Among the 7 districts we chose to compare, 42% of Filer kindergartners were at grade level, while 69% of the Moscow kindergartners were ready to read.

At the conclusion of 3rd grade, 74% of Idaho students read at grade level. 70% of Filer students scored a "3", while in Moscow the percentage was 82. Every district in the comparison made substantial growth in the percentage of "on-grade-level" readers - Filer and Twin Falls made the most growth, at 28% between Fall of kindergarten and the end of 3rd grade.

Here's the chart for the class of 2013:

And here is the same chart for the 3rd grade class of 2011:

Though percentages of "at grade level" students vary by district and by year, and are especially volatile in small districts (due to their small student populations), these data are clear for the state as a whole:
  • just over half of kindergarten students are ready to read when they enter school in Idaho
  • about 3/4 of Idaho students are reading at grade level at the end of 3rd grade
Conflicting Data

An upcoming Reading and Literacy Summit at Boise State University features a full agenda of interesting topics. However, in the summit description, there appears this quote:

"Unfortunately, two thirds of Idaho’s 4th grade students have only basic or below basic reading proficiency. Only a third of our students are proficient or advanced readers."

The IRI indicates that 3/4 of 3rd graders are reading at grade level. What's the source of the data in the quote? The answer: The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a randomly administered national assessment of reading (and other subjects).

At issue: the meaning of "proficient" and "proficiency" as defined by the NAEP and in the IRI.

Here's an explanation from Dr. Diane Ravitch, famed educational historian, from a blog post entitled "What do NAEP Scores Mean?":

"Since I served on NAGB (National Assessment Governing Board) for seven years, I can explain what the board’s “achievement levels” mean. There are four levels. At the top is “advanced.” Then comes “proficient.” Then “basic.” And last, “below basic.”

Advanced is truly superb performance, which is like getting an A+. Among fourth graders, 8% were advanced readers in 2011; 3% of eighth graders were advanced. In reading, these numbers have changed little in the past twenty years. In math, there has been a pretty dramatic growth in national scores over these past twenty years: the proportion of students who scored advanced in fourth grade grew from 2% in 1992 to 7% in 2011. In eighth grade, the proportion who were advanced in math grew from 3% in 1992 to 8% in 2011.

Proficient is akin to a solid A. In reading, the proportion who were proficient in fourth grade reading rose from 29% in 1992 to 34% in 2011. The proportion proficient in eighth grade also rose from 29% to 34% in those years. In math, the proportion in fourth grade who were proficient rose from 18% to 40% in the past twenty years, an absolutely astonishing improvement. In eighth grade, the proportion proficient in math went from 21% in 1992 to an amazing 35% in 2011.

Basic is akin to a B or C level performance. Good but not good enough.

And below basic is where we really need to worry. These are the students who really don’t understand math or read well at all. The proportion who are below basic has dropped steadily in both reading and math in fourth and eighth grades since 1992."

As Ravitch sees it, the Basic level of performance on the NAEP is similar to "Proficient" on measures like the IRI.

And here's the definition of 4th grade "Basic:" reading performance from the NAEP website.

"Fourth-grade students performing at the Basic level should be able to locate relevant information, make simple inferences, and use their understanding of the text to identify details that support a given interpretation or conclusion. Students should be able to interpret the meaning of a word as it is used in the text."

Dr. Bert Stoneberg, former NAEP Coordinator for the state of Idaho, shows in an article from his website, K-12 Research Idaho ,what happens when we look at the data in the manner described by Dr. Ravitch:

And he adds:

"On the NAEP 2013 reading test, 33 percent of Idaho fourth-graders scored at or above NAEP Proficient, while 34 percent of fourth-graders in the nation’s public schools scored at or above NAEP Proficient. However, 68 percent of Idaho fourth-graders and 67 percent of fourth-graders in the nation’s public schools demonstrated proficiency in reading on the NAEP 2013 reading test."

And, with that explanation, NAEP results match up very well with IRI results, at between 2/3 and 3/4 of students reading at grade level.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


The Idaho Department of Education and the College Board were gracious enough to provide district and school data for the 2015 Advanced Placement testing program. No student information was provided, and data were redacted for districts and schools with 10 or fewer participants in the AP testing program prior to providing the information.

Here are statewide data in terms of exams given (click the slide to enlarge):

Of the 9980 Advanced Placement exams given in Idaho in 2015, 3668 were given in the Boise School District. That’s about as many as the next five Districts (West Ada, CDA, Vallivue, Pocatello, and Bonneville) combined.

In fact, Boise District AP students took 37% of the statewide exams in 2015. though the Boise District's enrollment is about 8.5% of statewide enrollment. 

Of course, Districts in Idaho vary greatly in size. When student participation numbers are divided by the number of juniors and seniors in the District, the top 4 Districts are McCall (64%), Boise (50%), Blaine Cty (45%), and Vallivue (42%), all at over 40%. McCall had 131 juniors and seniors in 2015, and 84 students took at least 1 exam. Boise had 3552 juniors and seniors, and 1791 took at least 1 exam.

A few districts in Idaho have more than one high school. When we look at the same data by high school, 6 schools were above 40% - Boise High (65%) and McCall (64%) lead the pack, followed by Timberline at 55%, Borah (48%), Wood River in Blaine County (45%), and Century of Pocatello (44%). Vallivue of Caldwell was at 39% participation, and Capital at 33%.

Only 3 of the high schools above 30% AP participation have free/reduced lunch percentages above the statewide average - Borah, which also has the largest statewide population of Limited English students, Vallivue, and Capital.

Here are the percentages of juniors and seniors passing (“3”) at least one exam (more than 95 students taking 1 exam or more), by high school. 99 students took exams at Highland, and 106 at CDA Charter, while 402 took exams at Timberline and 623 at Boise.


From our perspective, Advanced Placement is the "gold standard" of Advanced Opportunities in the state of Idaho. We say this for several reasons:

  • Since AP features a common rigorous exam system for each of its courses, students who take AP exams can rest assured that students across the country have faced the same challenge in the exam system as have they.
  • Training opportunities for Advanced Placement courses provide for conversation and interaction among teachers of the same courses across the country, and allow for extensive learning opportunities for teachers from practitioners approved by the College Board.
  • Students can learn how the colleges in which they have interest, whether in Idaho or outside of the state, will treat the scores they earn on AP tests in providing college credit or waivers from college courses.
Students and parents can research credit policies for universities and colleges at this site. For example, here is the credit policy with a few example from the University of Utah:

Here's the University of Idaho's policy, with a few samples:

And here is the credit policy of the College of Idaho, again with a few examples of courses and credit:

So how did Idaho District s and high schools fare on this year's Advanced Placement testing? That's the subject of our next post.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Advanced Placement Data for the
Boise District Class of 2015

Finally!  The College Board has published a database of AP information for the past three years, allowing us to track test-taking patterns beginning with the class of 2015. We have completed the analysis for this group, and have found some intriguing data.

Test-Taking Patterns by Gender

Here's the overall AP test-taking pattern by gender.

55% of the test-takers (447 students) were female, while 378 (46%) were male. That's the overall pattern. However, we wanted to see if the pattern of more males taking Science exams and more females taking Language Arts exams had changed. It has not. For example, of the 163 AP Physics exams taken by this class, 64% (104) were taken by males, and 59 (36%) were taken by females. In English Language (the junior level AP English offering), 59% (294) of the exams were taken by females, and 41% (203)  by males.

Test-taking Patterns by  Ethnicity

The percentage of test-takers by ethnicity is remarkable similar to the overall ethnic breakdown in the District's high schools. 80% of exams were taken by White students; the overall high school percentage is 79%. 7% were taken by Asian students; about 5.5% of the high school population is Asian. About 8% of the test-takers were Hispanic/Latino; 10% of the overall population is Hispanic/Latino. 2% of the test-takers were Black; the overall Black population is about 4%.

Test-taking by School

Half of the population in the 4 Boise traditional high schools took one or more Advanced Placement exams. Boise High School led the way with 59% of the class taking at least one exam, with Timberline at 56%. In 2015, all students who took and AP class also took the associated exam, so almost half of Borah's class of 2015 students took an exam during their years as a Lion.

One of the reasons that Boise High gives many more exams than any school in the state is the number of students that take numerous exams. In the class of 2015, 28% (128) of Boise's students took 5 or more AP exams. In fact, a number of Boise High students took more than 15 exams during their years as Braves. Since most colleges around the country accept Advanced Placement test results and give credit or waive classes (as opposed to Dual Credit, which may or nor be accepted outside the state of Idaho), these students will likely start out as at least second semester sophomores at the college or university they attend.

Ar Timberline, almost one in 5 class of 2015 students took 5 or more Advanced Placement exams. In the District as a whole, the percentage was just over 16.