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What impact did last school year have on student achievement in Boise Schools?

Updated: Sep 3, 2022

During the October 11, 2021 board meeting, the district presented the IRI (Idaho Reading Indicator) scores for the 2019 -2020 school year starting at the 1:03:15 timestamp on the video and the update sounded very positive.

Here’s a summary of that update:

Since 2018, we have an increase in IRI proficiency in K-3. Data for each grade level since 2018 was presented to show whether reading proficiency has increased in each grade level over time. Data was also shown to track proficiency of the same graduating class of students (i.e. students who were in Kindergarten and are now in 3rd grade).

Overall, 61% of K-3rd graders currently are proficient up from 57% in the fall of 2018. Likewise, current 3rd graders are up to 66% proficiency, compared to 53% when they were in Kindergarten.

If you recall, Boise k-3 students spent most of the 2020/2021 year at home or attending school on an A/B schedule only accessing two days of live instruction from their teachers.

In West Ada and most other schools around the state of Idaho, they prioritized in-person learning and students were able to attend school every day for most or all of the year and many of them also dropped masking, social distancing, quarantine, etc. along the way so they could focus on learning and childhood.

With this said, we did some digging as we found it hard to believe that all students fared the same, or maybe even better, in k-3 early literacy while not having access to in-person instruction 5-days-a-week like the district reported.

We know that Boise Schools have some of the best teachers in the state and we know that many affluent families were able to hire pod teachers, tutors or have at least one parent at home guiding their child’s learning. With that, we wondered, what about the economically disadvantaged kids? How did they do in Boise Schools in comparison to other schools that prioritized in-person learning?

What the chart below shows is the percentage of economically disadvantaged students who scored at grade level (proficient) for the Spring IRI assessment exam. Data was found on the State Department of Education Accountability Website.

Already, in the 2018/2019 school year, Boise’s economically disadvantaged students lagged behind students in the same demographic state-wide by 4% and behind those in West Ada by 12%.

After the “online/hybrid/in-person” 2020/2021 school year, that gap widened such that economically disadvantaged students in Boise lagged behind similar students state-wide by nearly 10% and West Ada by nearly 19%.

Nearly all, if not all, school districts in the state showed learning loss as a result of the at-home 4th Quarter in 2020 and the 2020/2021 school year, but how did Boise compare? Again, the results for Boise are dismal. State-wide, the percent of economically disadvantaged students who are reading at grade level (proficient) fell by about 6.5%, West Ada fared better by “only” seeing a decrease of 5.3%. Boise?..... Boise’s similar student population fell by roughly double the state average and more than double West Ada…. A whopping 12%....

What does this mean? It means that the number of economically disadvantaged students at Boise School District that fell below grade level (proficient) as a result of the 2020/2021 school year was double the state average and more than double West Ada.

Why wasn’t this data shared to our board members during the October 2021 IRI update presentation? Surely the district is aware as they are constantly tracking this sort of data. But, instead of separating out the IRI data by demographic, they presented it all together. Was this intentional? Maybe. Maybe not. We don't know. But we do know this is a crisis for that particular demographic of students.

This has to be an obvious outcome from their chosen protocols and actions in the pandemic plan of the 2020/2021 school year. While we understand that Boise School District is using their current ESSER funds to support this learning loss, why didn’t they act sooner and treat the cause (remote/hybrid learning) in addition to the symptom (learning loss)? Why didn’t they prioritize in-person learning last school year and bring our students back sooner? Schools all over Idaho found ways to do it successfully. Why did Boise take so long?

Now, Boise continues to hold tight protocols that are not allowing children the same access to education as many others around the state such as: universal masking, quarantines, inconsistent enforcement, fear and intimidation to force compliance, limited enrichment opportunities, inconsistent rules depending on activity (i.e. sports vs. band, secondary students vs. elementary students, etc.). They have taken nearly everything from our elementary students including music performances and sports. Parents have felt bullied or harassed to disclose family health and vaccination status even though it is not required. Transparency on what is recommended versus what is required does not exist. Elementary children have been isolated during periods of the day (eating lunch alone in a hallway) due to their covid safety measures. All of these measures and tight protocols lead to mistrust and an unsafe environment. When children don’t feel safe, it is proven to interfere with a child's ability to learn. All around Idaho kids are having opportunities and experiencing childhood. They are provided with a safe school that holds consistent measures. Boise students are not. The attendance and IRI data suggests Boise students are losing.

Children already struggle with speech and language and have developmental delays that need strategic teaching. Parents have noted anxiety, stress and fear over wearing the mask which, in turn, does not create a safe learning environment. Others are seeing health issues that are affecting their child’s academics. Some children experience discomfort or even pain from difficulty breathing, face/mouth/nose sores, dizziness, headache or nausea so severe from wearing a mask that they can’t appropriately focus on learning. Some students have asthma, sensory issues or other health/special needs. Boise continues to turn a blind eye just like they did when the majority of Idaho students returned safely to their brick and mortar schools.

What will be the new outcome from these continued measures? Not only are students suffering but many teachers are exhausted by the end of the day trying to project their voices all day in a mask and strain to hear their students. What data will the district hide from us or change to avoid showing the continued gap they are creating?

Boise neglected to make decisions in the best interest of our students and this is glaringly obvious regarding those with fewer resources to fill in the gaps on their own– the economically disadvantaged– and they continue to go against what most other Idaho schools are doing. They continue to prioritize failed health policy over education. Their decisions have and will only widen this gap even further. Where most other districts are taking full advantage of this year to close that gap and address the learning loss in a normal educational setting, some Boise students are starting even more behind and will likely have yet another school year of delays and learning loss piled on top due to continued educational disruption caused by the 2021/2022 pandemic protocol.

What will the Spring 2022 IRI show? We just have to wait and see. But, according to Trustee Nancy Gregory during the January 10, 2022 board meeting at the 1:43:00 time stamp, “if a student has two bad academic years, they will never catch up”. How many students in BSD “will never catch up” not because of COVID, but because the district’s REACTION to COVID that continues to impact learning even now, two years later, long after most of the districts in the state have returned to normal?

What will they neglect next? Will we have double the suicide rates? Double the depression and anxiety? Double the attendance issues? Double the drop-out rate?

At what point do we say enough is enough?


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