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Early Literacy Growth Part I

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

The Boise School District Administration and many current trustees have supported the early literacy progress reported in the IRI updates (Idaho Reading Indicator = an early reading screener and assessment for grades K-3) at the October 2021, April 2022 and June 2022 board meetings . Unfortunately, there is little to celebrate as Boise's literacy rates are similar to the state-average, growth from fall to spring is among the lowest in the state and both of the aforementioned metrics are far below our neighboring district, West Ada. Furthermore, there has been little focus on the shortfalls including not exploring the data by demographic and discussion that seems focused on justifying the low growth rather than on the need to improve or how.

We do know that the District has replaced the current Reading Specialist Program with a Learning Coach program with the goal of increasing early literacy rates. While we hope this program leads to success for our early readers and provides teachers with the help and support they need, several K-3 educators with whom we have spoken are very worried about this change due to the reduced one-on-one or small-group time with struggling readers and the increased burden on teachers. They are also upset that teachers and reading specialists were not consulted prior to the program change or included in the decision.

In July 2022, Idaho Ed News published this article specific to kindergarten IRI showing that Boise School District’s kindergarten IRI growth from Fall 2021 to Spring 2022 was less than 10%, far below West Ada and the state-average of around 24% growth and below the state-highs in Coeur d’Alene and Nampa of around 30%.

How can this be? We know we have some of the best and most experienced teachers and support staff in the state (also emphasized by Administrator Jones in the June 2022 board report) and our per-pupil spending is among the highest in the state as well (stay tuned for more info on this). In a 10-question survey administered by Idaho Ed News, many incumbents pointed to all-day kindergarten as a reason for the above discrepancy, but this does not explain why West Ada outperformed Boise by large margins since they offered all-day and half-day kindergarten options last year just like Boise.

This article from Idaho Ed News indicates that 130/155 school districts from around the state that reported experienced an IRI growth of at least 10% for K-3rd grade. Guess which District didn’t make the cut?... Boise… meaning Boise's IRI growth for K-3rd grade was in the BOTTOM 15% of school districts in the entire state. At the June 2022 board meeting, President Wagers and Administrator Jones talked about Boise's goal of 5% IRI growth, suggesting that, even if the District missed that benchmark and only saw 3% growth (as was the case for 3rd grade last school year), that would still be a success….. And yet 85% of the Districts in the state were able to achieve TWICE Boise’s goal in reading growth or more, according to the above Idaho Ed News article.

This lack of IRI growth isn’t new just in the last year. This tool from the State Department of Education in 2019 shows Boise lower than comparable districts for most metrics, including IRI growth (Joint School District No 2 = West Ada).

Unfortunately the reason for the low IRI growth is NOT due to higher early literacy rates overall, or at least it wasn’t in 2019 (image below) or in the 21/22 school year. Boise's Spring 2022 K-3rd grade reading proficiency was 69.6%, just slightly higher than the state average of 68% and much lower than West Ada at 79.8%. Don’t forget that Beth Oppenheimer in Race 1 for one of the two 6-year slots is the executive director for the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (IDAEYC), an early child development program. One would think early literacy would be thriving under her tenure, but it isn’t.

But, can we really be surprised that we are lagging behind other Districts especially given the decisions the District has made the last 2+ years? President Wagers (an incumbent for Race 1: two 6 year seats) even admitted as much at the end of the April 2022 board meeting when he said “it’s great to get back to where we’re focusing on academics.” This is most concerning considering we seem to have been performing below many comparable Districts prior to COVID, as indicated above and on many other metrics available through the SDE Similar Districts Comparison Tool. Furthermore, Boise students were among the last, if not the last, to return to in-person learning in the 20/21 school year and had the most strict COVID protocol of all of the public school districts in the state during the 21/22 school year, thus putting them at even more of a disadvantage compared to students from around the state. The focus of BSD administrators and trustees should always be on academics and preparing students for college, career and citizenship: pre-, during- and now post-COVID.

On September 6th you can choose to continue with the status-quo* or you can make a different choice: to choose trustees who will provide proper District oversight, make well-informed decisions, and bring the focus back on students and their education, development and well-being.

Visit our “trustee election” page for more information and to see our preferred candidates for each of the five open seats across four separate races. Please do your own research and choose candidates who you think will put students first, focus on education, support staff, and include parents/staff in the decision-making process.

*Note: we do not consider the incumbent for Race 4 (Steve Schmidt) part of the status quo, as he has only been in office for 9 months and has done a good job asking tough questions and representing parents on both sides of difficult issues during board meetings.


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