In Erika Carpenter’s second-grade class, a handful of students are working on the basics of reading. They are sounding out letters, one by one, in small words: real words and nonsense words alike.
Down the hall at Boise’s Koelsch Elementary School, kindergartners are working on similar drills. The second-graders are trying to catch up — and there is no way to rush them along. The best way to bridge the gap is through constant and time-consuming repetition.
Meanwhile, Idaho faces its own gap. Each fall, four of every 10 kindergarten through third-grade students show up for school unable to read at grade level. This year, Koelsch and other elementary schools are sharing $11.25 million in state money, earmarked to reading. It’s up to local educators to figure out how to spend their money — and how to address their schools’ unique challenges and demographics.
The Problem, Summarized
One startling number illustrates the size of Idaho’s literacy challenge: 36,904.
From 2013 through 2015, an average of 36,904 K-3 students scored below grade level on the fall Idaho Reading Indicator — a short screening exam designed to identify at-risk readers.
The IRI is a snapshot — and it doesn’t mean at-risk readers are hopelessly behind their classmates. In the spring of 2016, exactly 25,000 students scored below grade level on the IRI, down from 36,780 in the fall of 2015.
The end of third grade looms as a pivotal point in a student’s academic career. It is at this point that children go from learning to read to reading to learn. As students are expected to think more critically, their ability to comprehend class materials becomes paramount.