Schools boosting goals in reading

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It isn’t news that the Coeur d’Alene School Board is committed to its students’ literacy, but Monday night, trustees made it official.

The board unanimously approved a goal of “100 percent reading proficiency for all exiting third-graders to be achieved by any and every means possible as soon as possible.”

The goal is not a policy, but rather a statement of commitment. Trustee Christa Hazel pointed out the goal is nothing new.

“It was always a goal,” she said. “We just haven’t articulated it to the community this way before.”

Trustee Dave Eubanks has spent a lot of time working on ways to improve literacy among students, including the charity event Jingle Books. He’s noted that not being proficient in reading by fourth grade can cause a child to fall behind in school and leads to a higher chance of poverty, homelessness and crime.

Eubanks told The Press he highly encourages parents to read with their kids at home.

“We want help from anybody and everybody,” he said. “We’re going to get there; we have to.”

The Idaho Reading Initiative, or IRI, is the current test kindergarten through third-graders take to test their reading proficiency. It tests how many words kids can read in one minute. Many education professionals have raised concerns with the test, saying it focuses on being able to read the words fast, not on comprehension.

The Idaho Literacy Task Force, a subset of the Governor’s Task Force on Education formed in 2014, recommended replacing the IRI.

Tuesday, the Idaho Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, the committee that sets the legislative tone for budgeting each year, approved funding for a new test to replace the IRI — a computer-based assessment from IStation.

“I want a fair test that will test that and help move these kids on to fourth grade better prepared,” Eubanks said. “If it does a better job of assessing a child’s ability to read, we welcome it.”

The State Department of Education said it will look for school districts interested in piloting the program for the 2017-18 school year. The department is looking for about 10,500 students to take both the old and new IRI. The following year, the new test will be given to all kindergarten through third-graders.

Post Falls School District Superintendent Jerry Keane said he’s looking forward to working with the new test and the feedback it will provide to educators.

“The [current] test is credible, but it doesn’t provide any information to teachers of what part of reading a kid is struggling with,” he said. “The new test will provide information teachers need to make classroom decisions.”

Keane said he’s considering offering his district to be part of the pilot program, but is waiting for more details about the test before making a decision.

Shelby Randklev, a reading specialist at Fernan STEM Academy, represented the Coeur d’Alene School District on the State Department of Education panel that chose the new assessment.

She said the new test adapts to the level of the student taking it, whether it be a kindergartner or a third-grader.

“It will give teachers more information and help guide their instruction to what their students need,” she said. “We are excited for the change. It will be a more comprehensive assessment.”

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