Another small group for a school accountability forum — this time in East Idaho

IDAHO FALLS — Another small group of people offered suggestions Wednesday regarding ways to establish a statewide school accountability model.

A batch of 18 educators and parents attended the fourth leg of the State Board of Education’s statewide tour to provide feedback and suggestions on ways to implement a new system of school accountability, which is already under development.

Idaho has been without a school accountability system since repealing the five-star rating system in 2014.

As a requirement of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, states need to have accountability systems in place for the 2017-18 school year that meet basic federal reporting requirements, including student proficiency results on standardized tests.

Education officials in Idaho want to go a step further and create a website called a “data dashboard” that includes multiple measures of quality and achievement.

Rep. Ron Nate attended Wednesday’s meeting in Idaho Falls. Despite showing up “more as a parent than as a legislator,” Nate took issue with federal education requirements discussed during the meeting.

“The only reason we meet these standards is to get federal dollars,” he said. “But all the reporting and accountability that comes with it bogs districts down.”

Despite his criticism, Nate, R-Rexburg, said the meeting was still useful because it encouraged parents and educators to come together to discuss ways to improve education.

Like in past meetings, much of the discussion revolved around gaining understanding of currently proposed accountability measures, one of the which — chronic student absenteeism — attracted a lot of attention early on.

Several of those in attendance argued that absences are a poor indicator of school quality because they are out of educators’ control.

However, an Idaho State University professor in attendance said absenteeism might actually be a proper reflection of school performance.

“If they want to be there, doesn’t that say at least something about the school?” said biology professor Catherine Black.

State Board officials Tracie Bent and Blake Youde informed attendees that concerns over absenteeism had surfaced in past meetings and were now on a list to be reviewed by the State Board.

Attendees also suggested removing or changing other currently proposed accountability indicators, including a teacher quality and engagement index that emphasizes advanced degrees or national board certifications.

Some suggested that teacher retention was a better indicator of teacher quality. Teachers who stick around for more than three to five years, they said, are likely doing the right things in the classroom.

“We’ve heard teacher retention as a way to gauge teacher quality quite a bit so far,” Youde said. “That idea will definitely go back to the State Board for review.”

Other suggestions for accountability included:

  • Class size data.
  • School safety.
  • Parental contact and a focus on eliminating absenteeism among grade-school students.
  • Engagement with extracurricular activities.
  • Adding an administrative quality indicator.

Youde and State Board of Education official Tracie Bent said the small turnouts at meetings thus far haven’t kept them from collecting a lot of feedback.

“That’s a good thing because we can take those suggestions to other meetings and take them right back to the Board when all of this is done,” said Youde.

Youde and Bent will host three more public meetings throughout the state this month. They will then gather feedback into a report for State Board of Education members to review before the board is scheduled to vote on approving the accountability system in November.

Anyone wishing to submit written testimony may send an email to the State Board of Education with “accountability framework” written in the subject heading.

The next forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Idaho State University in Pocatello. Here’s a list of the rest of the meetings, which all run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. local time:

  • Sept. 22, Idaho State University, Pond Student Union, Middle and South Fork Rooms, 1065 South 8th Ave., Building No. 14, Pocatello.
  • Oct. 18, Coeur d’Alene School District, Midtown Meeting Room, 1505 N. Fifth St., Coeur d’Alene.
  • Oct. 20, Lewis-Clark State College, Sacajawea Hall, Room 115, 500 Eighth Ave., Lewiston.

Click here for the State Board of Education’s summary presentation on the new accountability model.