By JUDD WILSON
RATHDRUM — Rathdrum teachers and students showed off their reading skills for Gov. Brad Little on Friday. The state’s new top executive visited Betty Kiefer Elementary School in Rathdrum, where Principal Lynn Paslay was happy to show Little reading instruction that works.
Between visiting classrooms, Little dove into the nuts-and-bolts details of how policies affect classroom learning during discussions with local educators.
Paslay touted the new Istation reading assessment as a more helpful tool for educators and students than the previous assessment under the Idaho Reading Indicator.
“I love it,” she said of the Istation. The all-electronic assessment is “far more comprehensive” than its predecessor, she said. In addition, it familiarizes students with using a computer mouse, she said.
Little said he hadn’t yet heard a professional educator say that Istation doesn’t work.
Last April, Istation won the state contract for reading assessments in Idaho school districts and charter schools from kindergarten through third grade.
Paslay said Betty Kiefer Elementary students take the Istation assessment on a monthly basis. The assessment takes about 20 minutes to complete, she said.
“Every month?” said Little in surprise.
Lakeland School District Superintendent Becky Meyer explained that the frequency is not mandatory statewide. Paslay added that the assessment gives teachers insight into each student’s reading deficits and strengths.
“We really can provide targeted assistance where we couldn’t before,” she said.
She said third-graders hit the 90 percent mark on the reading assessment at Betty Kiefer. Teachers are helping kids read, comprehend, and problem-solve by the end of third grade so they’re not decoding words in fourth grade and up, she added.
“We’re always trying to get better,” Paslay said.
Idaho State Board of Education member and Twin Lakes resident Don Soltman said, “We’re delighted to have the governor up north to see what we’re doing on the mastery learning side.”
Before touring the school, Little opened up about proposals to change the public education funding formula, and to repeal the grocery tax.
On Thursday, a joint session of the House and Senate Education Committees heard a presentation on changes to how the state funds public education. The governor said he’s been in touch with legislative leaders on the subject. He said he wants to look at it with his educational initiative in mind — Our Kids, Idaho’s Future — as well as programs like Advanced Opportunities.
“My inclination is to look at it holistically,” he said.
Without adding more dollars to the equation, changes to the funding formula can turn into a zero-sum game, he said. He’s afraid that alternative schools may suffer due to changes to funding rules. Little said that isn’t fair, since they’ve established themselves by conforming to the current rules. He emphasized that he doesn’t want struggling schools to suffer more.
“We want to look at all the ramifications,” he said.
Meyer said Lakeland School District would lose 36 teachers, the most in the state.
Little also said the grocery tax won’t be repealed during this year’s legislative session, largely due to uncertainty about individual income tax revenues. In addition, before repealing the tax, he wants groceries to be clearly defined in state code so lobbyists won’t feud over their definition in the future. The Idaho State Tax Commission will handle that, he said.