Common Core exams: Where Idaho stands

When it comes to testing students to the new Common Core standards, a few national patterns emerge.

Many education departments are beginning to align their assessments to Common Core.

State education officials generally believe the new tests will do a better job of measuring student performance and analytical skills.

But officials in many states are anticipating a drop in student test scores — and they’re planning public relations efforts to explain the results.

And where does Idaho stand? In the majority, on all three counts.

The Washington, D.C.,-based Center for Education Policy polled education officials about testing to the Common Core math and English language arts standards. The group received responses from education departments in 40 states, the vast majority of the states using the new standards. Idaho was among the respondents.

But the resulting report, released Wednesday, offers only a general look at the patterns. “The responses of specific states have been kept confidential to encourage frank answers,” the report says.

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So in order to put the national trends into a local context, Idaho Education News asked the State Department of Education about the report’s key findings — and how Idaho responded to the questions. Here’s the rundown.

Preparing ahead

From the survey: Twenty-seven states are already taking steps to measure students on Common Core before 2014-15, when Common Core-aligned tests will be available to the states.

Idaho’s response: Next spring, Idaho will field test exams tied to its new Idaho Core Standards.

Teacher training

From the survey: Twenty states have begun preparing teachers to interpret and use Common Core assessment results.

Idaho’s response: Training is under way.

Extra help

From the survey: Nineteen states have started working with districts and schools to plan extra help for students who may struggle to pass Common Core exams — or for students who fail the first time around.

Idaho’s response: There is some precedent. The state set aside money to work with students who struggle on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test. But as for Common Core assessments, the state is working on logistics. “Idaho is still working with educational stakeholders on this challenge we know we will face.”

Consequences

From the survey: It’s a split. Eight states are considering temporarily suspending consequences for students, or schools, that struggle on the Common Core assessments. Fifteen states have ruled out such a move. Other states say it’s too early to decide.

Idaho’s response: Schools will get a reprieve. The latest five-star school ratings, announced in August, will remain intact for two years, instead of the typical one year.

Public relations

From the survey: Thirty-three states are planning public relations efforts to help parents and stakeholders understand why students are struggling on the new test. Thirty-seven states are planning outreach to explain how the Common Core tests differ from existing state exams.

Idaho’s response: The state is planning public relations and outreach efforts.

High hopes

From the survey: Thirty states believe the new Common Core assessments will do a better job of measuring student performance and analytical skills. Twenty-seven states believe the new tests will “drive instruction in positive ways.” Twenty-seven states believe the new tests will be an improvement over current statewide English language arts exams; 26 states are expecting to see an improvement over current math exams.

Idaho’s response: “Idaho responded with the majority on all of the above questions.”

Additional exams

From the survey: Fourteen states surveyed are considering using additional Common Core-aligned tests — in addition to the multistate exams that are being developed by two groups, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Idaho’s response: Idaho is “pleased” with the progress on the SBAC exams, and is not developing additional assessments.

Technical issues

From the survey: Thirty-four states say they are facing challenges in administering Common Core tests. “These challenges include ensuring schools have adequate Internet access and bandwidth and sufficient numbers of computers to administer the online assessments.”

Idaho’s response: “Because Idaho has a long history of administering computer-based assessments, our state is not in the majority on this series of questions. Idaho is fortunate to not be facing the same challenges as states that are beginning computer-based testing for the first time.”