Wednesday, August 12, 2020


Written by Don Coberly. RISE/TVEP Executive Director
During Governor Little's Task Force meetings last fall session,  Idaho legislator Mr. Gary Marshall sounded a warning to his colleagues with regard to kindergarten readiness. 
“Over the summer I’ve heard a lot of talk about how 60 percent of kids are not ready for kindergarten,” Marshall said. “I would hope we could change that message and get back to a different concept and that is, I believe absolutely every child is ready for kindergarten.”If you look at the long-term implications of that, then you’re pretty sure 60 percent of kids aren’t ready to be 4-year-olds or be in pre-k and it just keeps going on down,” Marshall said. “The real answer is all kids are ready for kindergarten. We have to take them where they are at and do our very best.”
According to Idaho Red News reporter Clark Corbin, Marshall was obviously trying to be positive and point out that educators need to teach and help all students, regardless of the reading skills they possess when they show up to school.
Then, during two days of informational meetings in November at the Statehouse, Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, asked state officials why she kept hearing news reports saying students were unprepared for kindergarten, and questioned whether the narrative “was just anecdotal.”
Well, teachers do take their students where they are and do their best, and the information in not at all anecdotal. The problem is that there are high poverty schools across the state where very low percentages of students enter school ready to read, and there are others with low percentages of poverty where many more kids start out ready. 
And many kids in those high poverty schools never catch up.
Let's take a look at what the data say about this phenomenon.
In order to assess preparation for reading, we use the % at Grade Level on the Fall Kindergarten Idaho Reading Indicator. You may be surprised at how much variance there is among preparedness levels across the state of Idaho.
Highest Percentage of Kindergartners "Ready to Read"
The charts below show some of the schools with the highest percentage of "ready to read" kindergartners, and the demographics of those schools. Data for some schools were not available, or were given within a range, because their kindergarten enrollments are very low.

These schools consistently have high percentages of students showing up for kindergarten "ready to read", as judged by the Fall kindergarten Idaho Reading Indicator. Note that these are not cohort data, so  student mobility is not considered. Also note that percentages are generally lower for the "new IRI" initiated in 2018.
To see an illustration of how mobility works in high poverty and low poverty schools, see this post from the Boise School District's Data Points blog, written in 2017. It's interesting, and a bit startling to see the mobility differences.
The red and green text columns are meant to show kindergarten percentage (for example, fall 2012), and Spring third grade percentage (for example, Spring 2016). So Riverside School, in Boise, had 91% prepared in Fall kindergarten and 91% prepared in Spring 3rd grade. The State of Idaho, by way of comparison, had 56% in Fall kindergarten and 73% 4 years later.

This slide shows the demographics for the schools in the first slide. Note that each of the schools has Free/Reduced Lunch percentages well below the Idaho total, and Limited English percentages below the state percentage, as well.

Lowest Percentage of Kindergartners "Ready to Read"

In the charts below, you'll see schools that have some of the lowest longitudinal percentages of students that are "ready to read" upon entering kindergarten. 

Note that while the schools in the "highest" category begin kindergarten with "ready to read percentages in the 70's, 80's, or 90's, these schools typically start out in the 20's and 30's, and, more recently with the new IRI, between 10% and 26% "ready to read".

These schools make tremendous progress with their kindergartners as they progress through the early grades. For example, just 31% of kindergartners at Horizon Elementary in Jerome  were "ready to read" in Fall, 2013. Four years later, 72% were at grade level at the end of 3rd grade. That's impressive, but note that none of the "lowest" schools get to the performance level of the "highest" schools noted above. 

The demographics of these schools are quite different than those in the "highest" category. All have far higher percentages of free/reduced lunch than the state, as well as very high percentages of English learners. 

Since the introduction of the new IRI in 2018, the percentage of students "ready to read" has been about 10% lower statewide in Idaho. So the number of schools with between 10% and 30% has increased substantially. Below is a chart showing those schools for the administration of the Fall, 2019 kindergarten IRI.

With very few exceptions, these schools have very high poverty rates and high Limited English populations. The average percent ready to read across these schools was 16% in Fall, 2019.

How Pre-k Could Help

There are 19 schools in the list above. As we noted, they average 16% "ready to read" when the students enter school for kindergarten. A high quality Pre-k program could change the future for many students in those schools.

How? Well,  think about this. Let's say that each of these schools implemented quality Pre-k programs for their 4-year olds. in Fall, 2019, there were 1300 kindergartners in those schools, and 210 of them were at grade level. 1090 were not.

If those 19 Pre-k programs were able to get the percentage of "ready to read" kindergartners to the state average of 42%, 546 of 1300 students would be ready. That's 346 more students than were ready in fall, 2019.

If 70% were "ready to read" after participating in Pre-k programs, then 910 of 1310 would be ready. That's 700 more than in fall, 2019.

This can be done. We can raise the level of readiness in our kindergartens, starting with the schools that need it the most. The benefits this would provide for our businesses, our communities, our families, and our schools would be substantial. It's time we got to work on providing these opportunities for reading readiness.

Saturday, August 8, 2020


Originally published in Data Points, Boise Schools blog, Monday, August 21, 2017
Written by Don Coberly

In 2002, the Idaho Comprehensive Literacy Plan law was modified in Senate Bill 1412 to include a provision that only students who were enrolled 90% of the schools day between fall and spring IRI testing were to be counted for purposes of goal attainment on the IRI. The change was made so that schools and teachers were not held accountable in a given year for kids who showed up a week before the test, for example. The new provision was in place until SB 1614 was put in place last year - the new law had no provision for considering mobility.

The State Department of Education recently provided data to school districts about student mobility, which has been very helpful. However,  the public site which has IRI data dating back to 2006 does not include any consideration of student mobility.

So why is this important? Let's take a look at the data for 2 Boise schools, using cohort IRI data.

The Assessment

First, it's important to understand the scoring of the IRI. The test is administered on an individual basis in fall and spring of a given year by trained administrators (often former teachers), and takes between 15 and 25 minutes for most students. The results are scored on a 3 point scale.  A score of "3" is considered "proficient", "2" is basic, and "1" is below basic. The IRI does not measure "above grade level" skill in reading.

The kindergarten assessment is meant to measure growth in letter naming and letter sound fluency. In first grade, letter - sound fluency is measured in the fall along with fluent reading on a basic passage. Beginning in the spring of first grade, each assessment measures reading fluency - fluent reading rate on increasingly complex passages.

Mobility Case Studies

For these studies, we looked at 2013 fall kindergarten and 2017 spring 3rd grade data, and analyzed the changes in student population and IRI performance.

Horizon Elementary

Horizon Elementary is a large elementary school on the Boise bench which has high mobility and about 66% free and reduced lunch. Horizon was built in 1992 to relieve overcrowding in Boise's West End.

In the fall of 2013, Horizon had 115 kindergartners, each of whom took the Idaho Reading Indicator. Of that total group, 50% scored at "grade level" ( a score of "3"). The statewide fall kindergarten "at grade level" percentage was 54.5%.

We wanted to know how many of those kindergartners were still around in the spring of 3rd grade, and how they did on the IRI.

In the fall of 2013, 115 kindergartners took the Idaho Reading Indicator at Horizon. Half of those students were ready to read, according to the IRI, 5% fewer than in the state as a whole. Of those students, 49 (43%) were still at Horizon in the spring of 3rd grade. Of those 49, 81% were at grade level on the spring 3rd grade IRI, 6% better than the state average. 66 of the original 115 (57%) were no longer enrolled at Horizon.

Of the 66 students who moved, 23 did so within the Boise District. 36 moved within the state of Idaho (16 to West Ada), and 7 moved out of state.

In the spring of 2017, there were 49 third graders who had moved in since kindergarten. 16 had moved from another Boise school, 22 came from within the state (14 from West Ada), and 11 came from outside the state of Idaho. One student arrived during kindergarten, 7 arrived during 1st grade, 14 during 2nd grade, and 27 during third grade.  67% of the "new" students scored at grade level on the IRI at the end of third grade.

Roosevelt Elementary

Roosevelt is an elementary school of about 300 students in northeast Boise just off of Warm Springs Avenue. Roosevelt had a free/reduced lunch percentage of 18% in May, 2017. The school was originally built in 1920 and received a complete renovation in 2010.

In fall, 2013, 40 kindergartners took the IRI at Roosevelt. 92% of those students scored at grade level on the assessment. In spring of 3rd grade, 27 of those students (68%) were still enrolled at Roosevelt. 96% of those remaining scored a "3" on the spring 3rd grade IRI.

13 students (32%) transferred after the kindergarten assessment. Of those students, 8 changed schools within the District, 2 within the state, and 3 moved to homeschooling or to a charter.

Twenty-one (21) students came to Roosevelt during or after kindergarten. Of those students, 7 came from within the District, 5 came from in-state (4 from West Ada), and 9 came from outside the state (4 from California).  Two came during kindergarten, 7 in first grade, 6 in second grade, and 3 in the third grade. 91% of these students scored at "grade level on the IRI in spring of 3rd grade.

The Point of All This

We live in a tremendously mobile society. Teachers are faced with the enormous task of dealing with constant mobility among their students. At Horizon, for example, a "cohort" of students may actually feature more than 50% mobility from grades k-3. Sp over half the students in kindergarten will transfer during that period of time, and will be replaced by other students moving into the school. Some students may attend 4 or 5 schools during that time.

Apart from the challenges of socialization for so many students, starting and stopping at a number of schools often affects achievement among those kids. But since we have no control over the movement of families and students, the least we can do is to consider the achievement of students who are non-mobile. At Horizon, for example, 81% of non-mobile students were at grade level in spring of 3rd grade - in kindergarten, the percentage was 50 - truly remarkable growth. For Roosevelt, the percentage of non-mobile students who were at grade level at the end of 3rd grade was 96% - up four percent from kindergarten.

The fact that consideration of mobility is no longer a part of the IRI legislation is truly unfortunate. The old law required that it be considered each year. It's really not fair to hold teachers and schools accountable for the achievement of students who moved in just before the test, whether they achieved at grade level or below. If they continue in the school, then it makes sense - this kind of consideration of mobility is part of the federal testing requirement for ESSA - it should be for state assessments, as well.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020


As you may know, we have been writing stories each month about good things happening in school districts that are members of the Southern Idaho Conference, typically after the Superintendent’s monthly meeting in that district.

Well, the meeting won’t happen in person this month, so we decided to conduct phone interviews with folks in Middleton. We interviewed the Superintendent, a high school teacher, an elementary principal, and an involved parent. We wanted to know about the Middleton District’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We came away impressed with the timely creation and implementation of a solid plan, and the community’s support for its public schools. 

Superintendent Dr. Sherawn Reberry

Dr. Reberry is in her first year as Middleton Superintendent. She taught elementary school students in Twin Falls and Kimberly, and then became a Technology Integration Specialist at Idaho State University. Sherawn was an Elementary Principal in Caldwell for several years, and was also Elementary Education and Federal Programs Director in that district. Prior to taking the Middleton position, she was Director for Education Programs at Idaho Digital Learning Academy. Good preparation for our current situation with online learning!

Superintendent Dr. Sherawn Reberry

Nevertheless, since Dr. Reberry started in Middleton “on the same day the teachers showed up”, it’s been a steep learning curve. Imagine, then, when the pandemic began, and Middleton Schools closed their doors on March 16. The district needed to “turn on a dime” and provide a new method of instruction for its students.

Though there are still some families needing devices and connectivity, the vast majority of district families have been able to access technology resources, or, alternatively, hard copy packets. The District’s Instructional Specialists also have provided trainings for teachers on how to set up online instruction for students, and staff continue to reach out to students daily.

Dr. Reberry has been working to coordinate activities across the district, including provision of food for Middleton students. She indicates that she’s been gratified at the support from the Middleton community. Sherawn said she’s received messages of appreciation from parents and students in the community.

Middleton Heights Elementary School Principal Nichole Kristensen

Nichole is also in her first year as principal at Heights Elementary School.  She has been a resource and extended resource teacher in the West Ada and Boise Districts. She has also served as an Instructional Coordinator at Boise State. 

Principal Nichole Kristensen

Principal Kristensen spoke with us about how District elementary principals worked together to provide timely, coordinated deployment of technology and resources. All students in grades 3-5 were issued devices from the school, and students in grades k-2 were issued Chromebooks as needed. Hotspots were created in all 3 elementary school parking lots. Paper packets were also sent to k-5 students in the District.

Each morning, Mrs. Kristensen posts announcements in the Google Classroom platform for  parents and students, and on the day we spoke she was preparing for a virtual staff meeting. She also regularly visits virtual classroom lessons. She noted that staff members were doing virtual “shout outs” to students and families and that, recently, students and parents were doing their own positive, supportive “shout outs” to teachers.

Nichole credits the District and community for coming together and providing for students. She also credited District Technology and Curriculum Directors with coordination of online resources, and was pleased with the overall direction provided by the District in the crisis.

Middleton High School Math/Computer Science Teacher Robin Tomasi

Robin Tomasi has taught for three years in Middleton, though she has lived in the community for six. This is her second career, as she worked in the business world before teaching in Middleton. She teaches 9th grade integrated math at the high school, following the 8th graders she taught last year at Middleton Middle School.

Math/Computer Science Teacher Robin Tomasi

Robin has tried to deemphasize grades during the stay at home period, instead focusing on making sure students understand foundational concepts and skills that will help them be prepared for next year. She regularly reaches out to her students to find out if they are doing okay. 

Mrs. Tomasi emphasized that teachers have been working collaboratively to ensure they cover the same standards, and prepare students for future math classes. She has also developed a “math unplugged" series of lessons, which students can do at home with their families. Week One of this program was making and flying paper airplanes.

Middleton High School – Home of the Vikings

Robin agreed that the Middleton community has been very supportive, and she thinks the new Superintendent “is doing a great job and has a vision for where we need to go as a District.”

Maureen Seidel – Parent of 4 Children, 16 (sophomore at MHS), 14 (8th grader), 11 (5th grade) and 19 months.

Maureen is a career educator currently working as an Instructional Coach with Northwest Nazarene University. Her background is in Elementary Education, and she is happy with the approach that Middleton has taken in the move to online instruction.

She believes that Middleton teachers have set high, but reasonable expectations for students in the online environment. Maureen said that she enjoys having more family time in this new environment – eating more meals together, for example, but that her kids are ready to get back with their classmates and teachers.

Parent and Educator Maureen Seidel

As for the community, Maureen noted that “Middleton is stepping up its game” during the crisis. She supports the leadership of the new Superintendent and her commitment to transparency.

Middleton Steps Up

In the fast-growing community of Middleton, administrators, teachers, parents, and the community have demonstrated the importance of stepping up and working together in a crisis. “This hasn’t been easy for any of us,” said teacher Robin Tomasi. And it won’t be easy going forward. But with an attitude of collaboration, it’s amazing what can be accomplished.

Finally, here’s a quote from the District website that we thought captured the positive approach to solving problems in Middleton.  

 “We understand this move to remote/distance learning is not easy, and each one of us is learning to practice patience with grace.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Emmett to Pilot Kindergarten Readiness Program

In an effort to help next year’s Emmett kindergarten students be better prepared for school BEFORE they enter school, the Emmett School District is piloting a Kindergarten Readiness Program this spring. Developed by a committee led by elementary principal Greg Alexander (Kenneth J Carberry Elementary), the pilot involves screening next year’s kindergartners when they register for school this spring. The screener will assess the child’s age appropriate early learning skill level.

Every child who participates in the screening will receive a backpack that will include a toolkit of materials, activities, and lessons that parents can use with their children 15-20 minutes a day over the spring/summer that will reinforce skills such as identifying shapes, colors, numbers, and counting to 10. They’ll receive an early learning reading and language arts program adapted from the Lee Pesky Learning Center that was developed in part by Cindy Roberts, the Emmett Director of Curriculum. These materials will help with letter recognition and related reading skills. The backpacks will include crayons and scissors with activities to help children develop their tactile skills.  Besides the backpack, every child who participates in the early screening, will have their name entered in a drawing that will be conducted next fall. The grand prize in the drawing will be a bicycle for a kindergarten student at both Carberry and Shadow Butte.

In addition to Principal Alexander, the committee that developed the backpack program included Todd Adams (Principal, Shadow Butte Elementary), members of the district’s preschool and kindergarten staff, as well as community members from WICAP Headstart, several private preschool and day care providers, and Senator Steven Thayn (District 8). Senator Thayn who has opposed state funding for preschool and kindergarten, acknowledges that “parents don’t always know what to do in order to help their children be prepared for school.” Senator Thayn was instrumental in bringing the committee's school and community stakeholder groups together to discuss how to create a local strategy. 

The state currently provides funding for ½ time kindergarten. There are no state funds allocated for preschool. The toolkits and activities provided to parents will provide them resources to work with their children at home. This, according to Thayn, falls well within his philosophy that the primary educators of children are their parents who should be supported in their efforts by their community schools. 

Greg Alexander, Principal
Kenneth J Carberry Elementary
Senator Steven Thayn
Legislative District 8

The rationale behind the kindergarten readiness program comes from the experiences the district staff has had working with kindergarten children that come from poverty and the data the district receives each fall after the first administration of the Idaho Reading Indicator (IRI) assessment. 

For example, this past fall, less than 41% of the kindergartners at Carberry performed at grade level on the IRI (composite scores) and less than 35% at Shadow Butte. Additionally, only 19.1% of the Carberry kindergartners scored at grade level on the Letter Recognition subtest and fewer than 11% at Shadow Butte.

Elementary School
% of students eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch
% of Kindergartners at grade level
Composite Score
 Fall (2019)  IRI
% of Kindergartners at grade level
Letter Knowledge
Fall (2019)  IRI

Kenneth J Carberry
Shadow Butte

In response to the data and their experiences working with the children in school, the Emmett teaching staff and administrators found themselves attempting to conduct intensive intervention and remediation strategies to help close the gap for students. Some of those strategies, including full day kindergarten for identified low performing students, stretched the district’s thin resources. This prompted a discussion surrounding how to help parents help their students come to school ready to learn.

The Kindergarten Readiness Program’s distribution of backpacks and educational toolkits is an attempt to provide resources and encouragement to the families of next year’s kindergarten students to engage their children in age appropriate early learning activities that can increase the likelihood that the children experience early success as they start their k-12 journey in school. It’s a strategy with few downsides and potentially significant rewards.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Marsing Embraces the Community School Strategy

Superintendent Norm Stewart had a vision. It had been brewing for a few years. He’s led the Marsing School District for the last seven years as superintendent. Prior to that he served as the secondary principal in the district for a year. He moved to Marsing in 2012 from a small school district in Eastern Oregon where he had been the K-12 principal for twelve years. While working in the Echo Oregon School District, a small rural school district south of Hermiston, Stewart experienced what it was like to have local non-profit organizations, law enforcement, and social workers volunteer to work with the disadvantaged students and families in his school. Stewart brought those experiences with him to Marsing, a small rural district in Idaho that lies along the banks of the Snake River. He has always believed that, “schools are the centers of their communities” and that they can and should be at the center of student achievement as well as a resource for students and families in need. 

Marsing has embraced the Community Schools Strategy, a concept based on the idea that students learn best when their physical and emotional needs are met. Many students and their families find it hard to access services that provide for their most basic needs. Students in these situations find it hard to attend school regularly, complete homework, and otherwise participate fully in the educational experiences schools provide that most people believe are essential to economic prosperity and security in a free society.

Marsing, Idaho has a population of just over 1,200 residents. The school district has an enrollment of 853 students, 41% of whom are Hispanic, and 16% who are English Language Learners, student groups that historically perform below their peers. Marsing also has a significant level of poverty. Sixty three percent (63%) of Marsing students are eligible for the federally subsidized Free and Reduced Lunch program. There is a labor camp in Marsing, so many of their families are transient and leave to work in other parts of the country for parts of the school year. The median family income in Marsing is $29,670. That compares to the median income of $56,798 in Boise, just 32 miles away.

Schools who adopt the Community Schools Strategy seek to establish partnerships with local entities that can provide support and services for students and their parents on school grounds, an easily accessible location for families. Superintendent Stewart, the Marsing Board of Trustees, and the staff of the district have done just this, establishing important partnerships to provide vital services with many local agencies such as The United Way of the Treasure Valley, Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (IAEYC), Idaho Food Bank, St. Alphonsus Medical Group, St. Luke’s Medical Center, Terry Reilly Health Services, WICAP Project Launch, WICAP Head Start, Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office, Koenig Vineyard and Distillery, Lizard Butte Public Library, Marsing Lion’s Club, Logan’s Market, City of Marsing, and many more.

The Marsing School District has worked with its partners to provide extended day kindergarten, preschool (available on a sliding scale for parents), a food pantry, health and dental screening, mental health services, housing and utilities support, an afterschool and summer program that provides meals and tutor support and enrichment activities for its elementary and middle school students, and more.

With the passage of a $13.5 million bond to build a new middle school in Marsing, the district was able to convert the old middle school building into a community center that houses the district office, the district’s preschool program, the Head Start preschool, a food and clothing pantry, a substation for the county Sheriff, and space to provide community and parent education courses.

Superintendent Stewart, Board Chair Brad McIntyre and the other Marsing trustees were able to finance the new school without raising property taxes by retiring an existing bond and ending an annual supplemental levy. Those moves, supported by their patrons, allowed the district to further develop their Community School Strategy and locate it in a facility managed by the school district. They convened a meeting of potential partners this last November. Led by Jackie Yarbrough with the Idaho Food Bank, Christa Rowland with the United Way and Erika Lewis with IAEYC, the district was able to identify the community and school district needs and identify partners that could help bring the needed resources to Marsing.

So, a vision that began with the desire to serve students and their families in ways that will allow students to come to school “ready to learn”, strengthen connections for students and their families with their school and community, provide access to basic services for those in need, has blossomed in Marsing at a new community center known as The HUB. 


Written by Don Coberly. RISE/TVEP Executive Director During Governor Little's Task Force meetings last fall session,  Idaho legislato...