K-12 interim committee: a live blog

interim committee, 9.12.13

Richard Westerberg of the State Board of Education briefs legislators on the recommendations of Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force.A

4:28 p.m.: The Legislature’s K-12 interim committee wrapped up its work for the day, with a long and sometime brutally candid discussion about student data collection, and the pitfalls facing districts.

The testimony wasn’t necessarily a surprise. School officials voiced their frustrations with the Idaho System for Educational Excellence, or ISEE, the state’s longitudinal data system. They also aired concerns with the next phase of ISEE: the Schoolnet student tracking system.

While speakers said local school districts are wrestling with both systems, some history came to the surface as well. Much of the frustration came from the state’s decision — supported by the school districts — to accelerate the ISEE rollout.

The districts and the state are working better together now, said Tom Taggart, executive director of Idaho Association of School District Officials. But because the rollout was sped up, state and district officials are now being forced to “put out some fires.”

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde reminded the committee of the reason behind that rush. The ISEE launch was accelerated by a year as a condition of accepting federal economic stimulus dollars in 2009. Had the state waited further, he said, the state would have given up $87 million, “which would have been really tough as well.”

Next up for the interim committee: a full agenda of other issues. The committee will meet Oct. 2 to discuss school safety issues, student assessments and school labor issues.

3:48 p.m.: After hearing a tough review of Schoolnet — a system for tracking student growth and performance — Rep. Wendy Horman made an observation.

Horman, R-Idaho Falls, noted that all of the discussion about Schoolnet occurs in the future tense, suggesting that the system could someday be a useful system that allows teachers to use real-time student data to craft learning solutions.

“Is this working accurately and reliably anywhere in your district?” Horman asked one of Thursday afternoon’s speakers, Meridian School District curriculum coordinator Cindy Sisson.

Sisson said one aspect is working well — Discovery Education, a system that allows teachers to access digital textbooks. Sisson is frustrated that Meridian, a Schoolnet pilot district, isn’t using the system more, but the system is fraught with bad student data. “I can’t train on a product that’s not accurate.”

Schoolnet, an extension of the Idaho System for Educational Excellence, was launched in 2011, financed through a $21 million J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation grant. Fifty-one school districts and six charter schools are piloting Schoolnet.

But some districts have shifted to other student data systems, such as the Mileposts system, developed in the Blaine County School District and offered through Boise-based Silverback Learning Solutions. Among those districts: Eastern Idaho’s Bonneville School District, where Horman served as a trustee.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News is funded through a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation grant.

3:13 p.m.: The interim committee heard a pitch for more money — at the state and district level — to increase staffing to handle data collection chores.

“It is clearly an unfunded mandate that was put on districts at a time when they couldn’t afford it,” said Tom Taggart, executive director of Idaho Association of School District Officials.

Districts must deliver extensive monthly data reports to the state. In many cases, as the districts had to comply with the new Idaho System for Educational Excellence reporting requirements, they had to add or reassign staff to complete the reports. And this came as districts were facing budget cuts, said Taggart, director of business and operations for North Idaho’s Lakeland Joint School District.

The state accelerated the rollout of ISEE, the state’s longitudinal data system, as a condition of accepting federal economic stimulus dollars. And while districts and the state are working more closely on ISEE compliance, frustrations remain. “There’s this past history that needs to be overcome,” said Taggart.

12:47 p.m.: The state Education Department says the Idaho Education Association misrepresented the state’s teacher exodus.

The department isn’t disputing the numbers, presented by the IEA this morning. In 2012-13,  1,684 Idaho teachers left the profession.

But the department says most of the teachers left the profession for personal reasons. In a PowerPoint report, presented to the K-12 interim committee this morning, the IEA said the Idaho teachers were leaving the state’s ranks for other jobs in the education profession.

Here’s a link to a graphic on the teacher turnover rates.

12:29 p.m.: One of the state Department of Education’s pet data projects — an upgrade of its 2-year-old fiscal report card — could finally go live within the next few weeks.

The idea is a graph that would allow parents and policymakers to graph student spending against student performance.

The Education Department is working on expanding the report card and plugging in current student performance and spending data, Education Department chief information officer Joyce Popp told the interim committee.

If the concept of a graphing feature sounds familiar, it should. Luna presented the idea to legislative budget-writers in January; here’s a link to my blog from that meeting.

11:51 a.m.: Goedde asked Kowalski an elephant-in-the-room kind of a question about data collection — and Common Core. Is any state gathering biometric data on their students?

Kowalski’s nonprofit group, the Data Quality Campaign, asked that very question of the states — so the group could answer definitively.

“There is no state doing that.”

It’s partly a matter of logistics. Data collection is hard enough, so states are not going to randomly come up with new things to collect and add them “willy nilly” to the data gathering job.

11:06 a.m.: Paige Kowalski of the Data Quality Campaign, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, is walking the interim committee through the issue of why longitudinal student data matters.

She’s pointing out that Idaho, and other states, have made big strides in data collection since the mid-2000s.

Here’s a link to her 22-page PowerPoint presentation.

10:29 a.m.: Two key stakeholder groups put in a pitch for more money for schools — albeit from slightly different perspectives.

Jessica Harrison of the Idaho School Boards Association urged the legislative interim committee to put more money into school “operational funding.” This funding is commonly known as “discretionary funding,” but Harrison called that a misnomer. Operational funding can cover utility costs, benefits, workers compensation and sick leave, busing, substitute teachers, supplies and materials.

Otter’s education reform task force has recommended restoring $82.5 million in operational funds, over five years.

Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr urged lawmakers to reinvest in schools — and teachers. She showed lawmakers a chart indicating that 1,684 Idaho teachers left the profession in 2012-13 — on the heels of 1,884 teachers who left the profession in 2011-12. “The departures continue at historic levels.” (Here’s a link to Cyr’s PowerPoint presentation; the teacher turnover graphic is on the final page.)

10:03 a.m.: Richard Westerberg of the State Board of Education walked the legislative interim committee through the recommendations of the task force. (Here’s a link to the task force report, which went to Otter last week.) Westerberg chaired the task force, attending a round of seven public hearings across the state in April.

This morning, Westerberg fielded a range of questions from lawmakers. Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, wondered why the task force was silent on pre-kindergarten. Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, wanted more details about the mechanics of a teacher career ladder program, which could cost $253 million over six years.

And Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, wondered about the details of a plan that would promote students based on subject mastery. “We don’t have any way to measure mastery right now.”

Westerberg acknowledged as much — and said, on almost all of the 21 task force recommendations, the state will need to appoint work groups to hammer out the details. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

9:34 a.m.: DeMordaunt asked Luna about the districts’ resistance to the Idaho System for Educational Excellence, the state’s longitudinal data system, which requires districts to submit detailed monthly reports to the state. Some of the resistance comes down to change. Luna acknowledged both the state and the districts have faced challenges, partly because the state and districts agreed to speed up ISEE implementation, as a condition of accepting federal economic stimulus dollars for education. “I’m trying to paint a very realistic picture … but we continue to make progress.”

9:23 a.m.: Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna is speaking at length about data collection, today’s interim committee theme. A few points:

  • The state collects more than 400 data elements, all required by federal and state laws, and most have been collected for years. The data elements do not include biometric data — a recurring claim from critics of the new Idaho Core Standards.
  • Many of the data points pertain to funding and average daily attendance, the state’s funding yardstick. Last year, the state’s data collection system caught about 3,000 students that were double-counted for ADA purposes, saving $2 million.
  • What’s more valuable, Luna said, is the academic growth and proficiency data that is collected and sent back to the schools, so teachers can make better decisions about teaching. “Going forward, this system will become even more critical.” Several of the task force’s recommendations — from student master and literacy to a teacher career ladder — will hinge on good data collection.
  • Luna believes the state has adequate safeguards in place to protect student data, but he believes Idahoans are rightfully concerned about data security. Goedde told interim committee members that he is working on a data security bill, but he did not go into detail about it.

9:01 a.m.: In case you missed it, here’s a link to our preview piece on Thursday’s meeting.

8:51 a.m.: A few opening comments from the two interim committee chairmen.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, started by addressing the 21 recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s task force (Goedde was one of three legislators on the 31-member task force): “Our challenge as I see it is taking these recommendations and moving forward.” A task force report that ends up sitting on a shelf accomplishes nothing.

Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said he does not envision this committee crafting legislation — but perhaps the committee will “spawn some ideas” for legislation.

8:42 a.m.: Welcome to our live blog from the first meeting of the K-12 legislative interim committee, which just started. I’ll update throughout the day, and if you have comments or questions, I’ll try to answer them.


  • Steve Smylie

    Something you didn’t mention Kevin that struck me. Idaho has 115 regular school districts, 163 counting charters. They use 70 different software programs to do data collection. The state requires them to report these numbers every month. Hours upon hours of time is wasted in both collecting, submitting, and transcribing these numbers. Even the people in charge of this admit it to be a real problem and that complaints are numerous. This is nothing new, data collection has been a mess in Idaho for years. Besides, one gets the impression that once collected, it is either filed and ignored, used to play “gotcha,” or the usable information is difficult for teachers, parents and administrators to access easily. Where is the leadership that is needed to simplify this? We keep hearing that all this information will be at the teacher’s fingertips and accessible to parents. Everyone instead seems to be more concerned with ferreting out which school districts are “wasting” money. No one is talking about the obvious infrastructure problem that has 163 school districts, many of them with fewer than 500 students duplicating efforts and burning valuable staff time using dozens of sometimes incompatible programs to make reports that are mainly to meet federal requirements from the American Recovery and Restoration Act (money which is now gone, by the way). Talk about an elephant in the room.

  • Travis Manning

    Kevin, thank you for your helpful reporting here.