DES MOINES | Gov. Kim Reynolds kicked off a tour Tuesday to mark the beginning of K-12 classes for the 2017-18 school year by touting gains in reading scores among students in kindergarten through third grade.
Reynolds and Ryan Wise, director of the state Department of Education, said 70 percent of students met or surpassed statewide benchmarks during the 2016-17 school year — increasing 3 percent from fall 2016 to spring 2017. That builds on a 4 percent increase during the 2015-16 school year, they said, calling the progress significant.
“We’re seeing growth, we’re seeing progress and so we need to continue to look at that and figure out how we can continue to scale that success with school districts across the state,” Reynolds told her weekly news conference which was held at the Edmunds Fine Arts Academy in Des Moines — the first stop on her Start of School tour that coincides with Wednesday’s official opening of K-12 schools under a new state law. The governor and Wise also visited the Emmetsburg Community School District on Tuesday, and plan stops in the Forest City, Central Springs and Garner-Hayfield-Ventura community school districts on Wednesday.
State leaders are looking at long-term ways to strengthen Iowa’s workforce talent pipeline, and Wise said one important early step is ensuring all students read proficiently by the end of third grade. In 2012, Iowa adopted a major initiative to identify struggling readers and provide intensive intervention, he said, and now school districts screen students’ reading skills on an assessment three times a year which helps teachers identify and intervene for students not reading at grade level.
“Early literacy is critical because success in school starts with the ability to read,” Wise said. “Students who struggle to read early on are more likely to drop out of school, are less likely to pursue post-secondary education and training and less likely to earn a living wage.”
State lawmakers last session decided to abandon a previous approach to force students to repeat third grade if they were not reading at grade level by the end of the year. The state-mandated summer reading program for struggling third-graders had already been delayed and moved back to 2018 before lawmakers decided a pilot program which provided extra money so struggling third graders could attend summer school would not be continued, but Reynolds said Tuesday there may be other ways to accomplish the goal of boosting reading skills among elementary students.
Deborah Reed of the Iowa Reading Research Center said a number of Iowa’s 333 school districts are continuing summer reading programs but they’ve gone from a required approach to an option for helping students address their literacy needs. “It’s part of an array of interventions that might be provided by a school districts” and they work collaboratively to find ways to refine and redeliver instruction based on quality reading performance data.
Reynolds said she is focusing on reading, Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation System and Iowa’s STEM initiative during her school visits.