Madison’s ISAT opt-out could cost Idaho $10 million

Madison School District Superintendent Geoff Thomas says his students will not take the state-adopted standardized test next month, even though that may defy a federal requirement and could cost Idaho more than $10 million.

Dr. Geoff Thomas
Madison Superintendent Geoff Thomas

“It certainly could be that extreme,” said Tim Corder, special assistant to Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra. “It’s against the law to opt out. The state signed an agreement and took that money and (the federal government) expects you to honor the deal.”

Madison’s trustees voted unanimously in February to opt out of taking the Idaho Standards Achievement Test by Smarter Balanced. Thomas, named the 2015 Idaho Superintendent of the Year by the Idaho Association of School Administrators, supports his board’s decision. An explanation letter was sent to parents and is displayed on Madison’s website.

Corder is not aware of any other Idaho district opting out of ISAT.

The federal government has threatened to withhold 20 percent of all Title I funds from all of Idaho’s Title I schools if 95 percent of students do not complete the ISAT this spring. With more than 5,200 students, Madison accounts for about 2 percent of Idaho’s student population of about 262,000. Madison officials said about 2,000 would have taken the ISAT, compared to about 140,000 Idaho students scheduled to take it. The district’s decision, plus other students or districts opting out, would impact whether Idaho meets its 95 percent participation requirement.

Corder told the House Education Committee Monday that 20 percent of all Title I funds equals $3 million. On Tuesday afternoon he corrected himself and told Idaho Education News the amount will be closer to $10 million.

Ybarra sent Thomas a letter stating the district is required to comply with the parameters of the No Child Left Behind/Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Ybarra is in Washington, D.C., this week, meeting with federal officials as part of the Council of Chief State School Officers. She and other state officials are writing another waiver for the federal education law. But Corder said any rewrite would not change Idaho’s 95 percent participation requirement this spring.

Speaking of the potential $10 million funding loss, Corder said, “It’s now the Legislature’s call on how they address that cost.”

Said Thomas, “We are not doing this out of the spirit of defiance. We found a much better test. Our decision was deliberate and thoughtful and research-based. All the signs to use another test are very positive. It’s what’s best for kids.”

Madison students will instead take the Measures of Academic Progress or MAP test. It will be administered to students in grades three through eight and 10.

Thomas said his district is choosing to administer MAP for three reasons:

  • It causes less disruption to instructional time because it is a much shorter test.
  • It costs less to administer. Thomas says MAP costs $4 per student while the ISAT by Smarter Balanced costs about $26 per student. “We could save taxpayers tons of money — millions,” Thomas said.
  • Test results are reported back to the district within days. ISAT results could take months.

An Ybarra staffer doesn’t believe MAP meets the guidelines.

“MAP is a high quality assessment however, it is our understanding that the current version of MAP does not meet the current (U.S. Department of Education) peer review guidance for use as our statewide summative assessment,” said Angela Hemingway, the State Department of Education’s director of assessment and accountability.

Thomas says MAP meets federal requirements and aligns to Idaho Core Standards.

“I feel this is what’s bright for children because this assessment guides instruction and helps students know where they are,” Thomas said. “We’re not against testing, it has its place, but it shouldn’t disrupt instructional time and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Thomas compared the ISAT by Smarter Balanced to other recent statewide endeavors such as the Idaho Education Network and Schoolnet — which have come under recent scrutiny by lawmakers.

“(The state) has gone off the deep end embracing these massive contracts that don’t follow common sense,” Thomas said. “Doesn’t that tell us something?”

Thomas said even if he forced the ISAT on his patrons, participation would be limited. When the exam was field-tested last spring, only 73 percent of Madison students participated.

“I hope they take a look at our (MAP) results and consider us a pilot project,” Thomas said.