Boise leads new push to replace SBAC tests

Trustees from one of Idaho’s largest school districts are leading a new charge to replace the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test.

Boise School DistrictThis summer, Boise Independent School District trustees unanimously approved a resolution calling for working alongside the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Legislature and the State Department of Education to “consider adopting other testing measures in lieu of the SBAC that will have the primary goal of improving instruction without overburdening Idaho classrooms.”

If Boise’s proposal gains momentum, it could serve as the catalyst to a major policy and testing debate during the 2016 legislative session.

The SBAC test, sometimes referred to as ISAT by Smarter Balanced, is aligned to Idaho Core Standards. The test was created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a multistate agency. Idaho is an SBAC member.

Boise school board members said they have several concerns about the test, including the length of time it takes to administer, delayed test results and the value of data from the test.

SBAC“There were all these expectations here and there was so much time and emphasis on the test, and then not getting results was the most disconcerting thing,” board chairwoman Nancy Gregory said. “How do we communicate results of the SBAC to parents when the report we get back with the SBAC is not helpful and does not accurately give information about where a student is or the progress a student has made toward the standards?”

Idaho students completed the tests between March 30 and May 22, with schools expecting results within 10 days. But delays hampered the delivery of results, forcing Boise and other districts to mail results to parents after the school year ended, at a cost of more than $10,000 in Boise.

Boise isn’t the first school district to look at replacing the SBAC test. During the 2014-15 school year, the Madison School District’s board voted to opt out of the SBAC and replace it with another assessment. However, Madison reversed course after Gov. Butch Otter intervened and state officials expressed concern that millions of dollars in federal funding are tied to participation in a statewide test.

Boise trustees will bring a resolution to the Idaho School Boards Association’s fall convention that runs Nov. 11-13 in Coeur d’Alene. There, trustees from throughout the state will debate and vote on the resolution.

If it passes there, Boise leaders hope to use that support as a springboard to work with lawmakers and state officials to replace the test.

Don Coberly square
Boise Superintendent Don Coberly.

In an interview Thursday, Boise Superintendent Don Coberly said his district supports making a change, but will follow all state and federal laws. As a result, Coberly and Deputy Superintendent Coby Dennis expect Boise students will take the SBAC tests in 2016, even if changes are coming in the future.

“The idea is going forward we should have a plan to know where we are going,” Coberly said. “We need to put criteria in place that helps us with the selection of whatever assessment we use. We understand what the rules are, but that doesn’t mean when the contract is up with SBAC that we shouldn’t be looking at everything that might be available.”

Although they oppose the SBAC, Boise leaders reaffirmed their support for Idaho Core Standards and assessments.

Coberly was particularly unhappy with the data that came back with the SBAC results. He described the reports as being so vague that they don’t help teachers develop specific strategies for areas where students struggle, or identify areas where students shine.

The SBAC results may indicate a particular student struggles in geometry, Coberly said. But that information is nearly useless because it does not identify specific test questions they missed or specific academic standards they struggle to meet.

SBAC officials do not release test questions, so a question-by-question analysis is impossible unless officials change that policy, Coberly said.

“What is problematic with the most recent assessment is it just doesn’t give us enough information to make actionable decisions on the data,” Coberly said. “If we’re just getting numbers, that doesn’t help us with instruction.”

Coberly also is concerned about the high-stakes nature of the test as it becomes a graduation requirement. This spring, 30 percent of the state’s 11th graders scored “proficient” or “advanced” on the math portion of the SBAC. Coberly worries that thousands of strong students — even those who pass rigorous Advanced Placement tests or earn professional-technical education certificates — would be held back from graduating because they did not meet SBAC benchmarks.

“When you look at just the first year of results, 70 percent of the students in the state are at risk of not graduating high school,” he said.

Continued reading: Complete text of Boise’s SBAC resolution:

WHEREAS, the Idaho Core Standards (adopted from the Common Core State Standards) are a set of high-quality, rigorous academic standards that will help school districts to achieve the Idaho State Board of Education’s goal that 60 percent of Idaho high school graduates have a college degree or certificate of value by 2020; and

WHEREAS, our students have increased access to rigorous standards and content, their chances of succeeding after high school improve; and

WHEREAS, by their very nature, the Idaho Core standards paired with locally-written curricula prepare Idaho students for the challenges of accelerated coursework, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and dual credit courses and college entrance exams such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT); and

WHEREAS, results of the spring 2015 SBAC indicate a high correlation between test scores and poverty; and

WHEREAS, early SBAC test experience in other states has shown that the increased length of the test, at eight hours or more, is causing unnecessary stress and anxiety for students, particularly among the youngest and most vulnerable learners; and

WHEREAS, the longer SBAC test has necessarily increased the testing window from four weeks to eight weeks, thereby extending the period of time when classroom instruction is disrupted by unavailable computer labs and incomplete classrooms. Many teachers surveyed are concerned that testing has become a major distraction in their classrooms; and

WHEREAS, the student data from the SBAC provide little actionable data upon which meaningful improvements to classroom instruction can be based; and

WHEREAS, there are other tests that are more cost effective than the SBAC test, including the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, the PSAT, the SAT and that these tests have been shown in other states to save taxpayer dollars, fulfill the requirements of federal government education waivers to better inform and support instruction.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Idaho School Boards Association work with the Idaho legislature and the Idaho State Department of Education to consider adopting other testing measures in lieu of the SBAC that will have the primary goal of improving instruction without overburdening Idaho classrooms.


ISDE officials and SBAC representatives estimate that it takes each student 6 – 8 ½ hours on average to complete the test. Over one million hours of instructional time at grades 3-10 will be lost each year in the state of Idaho just for the SBAC. This is over twice as much time as was taken for the ISAT. In addition, data received on student performance is too vague and broad to provide any insight as to how instruction may be improved raising the question, “What purpose or benefit does the Idaho SBAC serve?”  Therefore, we recommend discontinuing use of the SBAC as the measure of attainment of the Idaho Core Standards and adopting assessments that will better serve as indicators of Idaho student achievement.


Clark Corbin

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