Common Core: Idaho to road-test exams in 2014

The country’s top education official has given Idaho the flexibility to introduce new assessment tests to all of the state’s schools a year before they will be tied to accountability.

The move will allow Idaho to continue to move away from the federal No Child Left Behind law and make the transition to the Idaho Core Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said Thursday morning.

The plans haven’t been finalized, but Luna said all Idaho schools will participate in “field tests” of the new assessments during the spring of 2014.

In order to save money and time and avoid overwhelming students, the current version of the Idaho Standards Achievement Test will not be given next year unless it is specifically tied to student graduation requirements.

“This is just one more step as we transition to higher standards and new assessments,” Luna said. “Under current law, it appears we have to give two tests to every student next year, and we’ve made it clear we’re not giving two – we’re giving one – because of student fatigue a number of other factors.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan backed the state’s desire for flexibility in a letter delivered Tuesday to state school chiefs.

“We want to support states that would like to avoid double-testing students, which as you know often happens during the shift to a new test,” Duncan wrote.

Luna said department officials developed the plan around input from districts and charter school leaders. He then laid out those plans a few weeks ago in Chicago, and is pleased Duncan’s office backed flexibility.

State Department of Education officials plan to rate all schools this year based on the new five-star rating system. During next year’s field-testing of the SBAC assessment, the state will not issue new five-star ratings. Instead, this year’s ratings – as well as schools’ intervention and accountability requirements tied to those ratings – will apply for two years.

In the spring of 2015, the state will administer the new SBAC tests in earnest for the first time, and at that time, schools’ accountability will be tied to the results. SBAC sample questions are available for review online.

About 100 Idaho educators have already been working alongside their counterparts from other SBAC states on writing the new tests, Luna said. Idaho is a governing state of the SBAC, and one of Luna’s deputies, Carissa Miller, served as co-chair of the SBAC executive committee.

“Idaho has played a key role in SBAC,” Luna said. “We’ve been heavily involved since day one.”

The new assessments are considered a high-stakes test that will move beyond multiple-choice questions to focus on fluency in a subject and critical thinking skills. In 2012-13, about 120 Idaho schools piloted the new assessments. The pilot program, along with next year’s field tests, means Idaho students will have had one or two experiences with the new testing format before it becomes an accountability measure.

“We don’t just want to spring the test on students if we haven’t give them or educators enough time to prepare.” Luna said.

More information about flexibility and the move to new assessments will be shared with districts in late July, Luna said.

Luna’s June 19 letter to school officials

Dear Superintendents and Charter School Administrators,

As Idaho continues to move away from the many onerous provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan acknowledged on Tuesday additional flexibility that is available to states as they transition to a new assessment by the spring of 2015. As you know, since Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, all states have had to meet certain accountability measures as set forth by federal law. These accountability requirements include the requirement to test all students and hold schools accountable for the results of these assessments. Idaho has chosen to transition to a new assessment based on Idaho’s higher academic standards. This is not the first time Idaho has transitioned to a new assessment; therefore, we are following the same process we have always followed in working with the U.S. Department of Education to take full advantage of the flexibility states have available in our efforts to best meet the needs of Idaho students while at the same time complying with the federal laws that have been in place for more than a decade.

To ensure a successful transition, the Idaho State Department of Education has been working with the leaders of Idaho’s districts and charter schools to plan the best path forward for Idaho. We believe we have found the right path that best meets the needs of all students while still making sure we continue to hold Idaho schools accountable for results, even during this transition period. While Idaho will not administer the new assessment aligned with Idaho Core Standards until spring 2015, the state already has begun work on this new assessment. In spring 2013, 120 schools piloted the new assessment. In spring 2014, the state’s plan is to field test this assessment in all schools, rather than just a sample size. We are still working to make sure this will be possible. However, while we want to field test this assessment in all schools, we do not want to double test any student by requiring them to take the field test of the new assessment and the ISAT at the same time. Therefore, Idaho’s plan in spring 2014 is to:

  • Administer only one test to each individual student, likely the field test of the new assessment except for those students who may need to continue to take the ISAT to meet graduation requirements.
  • Rate all schools on Idaho’s Five-Star Rating System this year and carry those same star ratings forward until spring 2015. Schools will be held accountable for all necessary interventions and school improvement efforts based on these ratings.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education acknowledged that Idaho has the flexibility to implement this plan we have developed and that many districts have urged us to move forward with. The letter from the U.S. Department of Education is provided in full below. This is a positive step forward for Idaho schools and, most importantly, Idaho students as we continue to transition away from many of the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind.

Again, I want to reiterate that we are still working with local school districts and charter schools on the details of this plan for spring 2014. Staff from the State Department of Education will discuss Idaho’s plan moving forward in much more detail at the Annual Superintendents’ Meeting at the end of July. Please plan on joining us then.


Tom Luna

Duncan’s June 18 letter to states

Dear Chief State School Officers,

Over the last four years, state and local leaders and educators across America have embraced an enormous set of urgent and long-overdue challenges: raising standards and upgrading curricula to better prepare students to compete in the global economy, developing new assessments, rebuilding accountability systems to meet the unique needs of each state and better serve at-risk students, and adopting new systems of support and evaluation for teachers and principals. Meeting this historic set of challenges all at once asks more of everybody throughout the education sector, and it is a tribute to the quality of educators, leaders, and elected officials across this country that so many have stepped up.

Throughout this process, states and districts have established high goals for themselves: college- and career-ready standards for all; higher graduation rates and college enrollment rates; high expectations for critical thinking, problem-solving, and other 21st century skills; ambitious and achievable performance targets that really move the needle for kids at risk; and useful, rigorous systems of evaluation and support for teachers and principals based on multiple measures, including student growth. The department has offered flexibility to enable states and districts to meet these goals. In a country as diverse as ours, where schools and students have different educational challenges, one-size-fits-all solutions have not worked. We have also aligned our grant programs to support states willing to lead this important work, and the result is that some states are further along than others, but all states are engaged in significant improvement efforts and students are better off for it.

In recent months, we have heard from many of you and from thousands of teachers, principals and education advocates. While there is a broad sense that these far-reaching changes carry enormous promise for schools, children, and the future of our country, there is caution that too much change all at once could undermine our collective progress. I fully appreciate both the courage to tackle so many challenges at once and the burdens this imposes on front-line educators – teachers, principals, school boards, and administrators – who are committed to doing this work well.

With that in mind, the department is open to additional flexibility for states in two critical areas: the first relates to one particular element of teacher and leader evaluation and support system implementation, and the second addresses “double-testing” during the transition to new assessments aligned with college- and career-ready standards. 

First, I want to address the implementation of teacher and leader evaluation and support systems. States that have received a Race to the Top grant or flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) are responsible for working with districts to develop systems to evaluate and support principals and teachers based on multiple measures, including student growth. States have committed to different deadlines to implement these systems: some are implementing now; others will begin over the coming years. Given the move to college- and career-ready standards, the dramatic changes in curricula that teachers and principals are now starting to teach, and the transition to new assessments aligned to those standards, the department will consider, on a state-by-state basis, allowing states up to one additional year before using their new evaluation systems to inform personnel determinations. To be specific, states that request and are given this flexibility may delay any personnel consequences, tied in part to the use of student growth data, until no later than 2016-2017.  We recognize that, for many states, it will not make sense to request this flexibility because they are already well ahead in successfully implementing these changes or have requirements in state law.

States interested in this extension may request this change, before September 30, 2013, through the current ESEA flexibility amendment process. Details about the amendment process are available on the ESEA flexibility Web page (  As each state implements college- and career-ready standards, it must have a robust plan for supporting teachers and principals as they transition to the new standards and assessments. States will need to lay out those plans in detail in the ESEA flexibility renewal process, along with indicators of teacher and principal familiarity and comfort with these new materials.

The second issue I want to address is that of “double-testing” during the transition from the current statewide assessments to new assessments aligned with college- and career-ready standards. During the 2013–2014 school year, some schools will be involved in the important work of field testing new assessments. We want to support states that would like to avoid double-testing students,which as you know often happens during the shift to a new test. Therefore, we would consider requests from states for a one-year waiver, to allow schools participating in these field tests to administer only one assessment in 2013–2014 to any individual student — either the current statewide assessment or the field test. We would also consider a request for those schools to retain their federal accountability designations for an additional year during which the same targeted interventions would have to continue, with no relaxation of accountability requirements. Details about the Title I waiver process are available at

Our country continues to face challenges as we work together toward achieving educational excellence for all children, and the timing of these actions has real consequences for students in the real world. The point of raising standards is to prepare students for tomorrow’s challenges rather than yesterday’s. Their readiness has real consequences for their lives, and the nation’s economic health. Yet this effort will only succeed if all parties have the time, resources and support needed to make the journey from the inadequate standards of the past to the ambitious standards of tomorrow. As the highest-ranking education official in your states, you define the path and the pace for how states and schools will make that journey. Our job in Washington is to support you. In the coming days, the department will provide more information on the flexibility discussed above; my staff will reach out to you and your teams to provide assistance.

On behalf of the Obama administration, I deeply appreciate your leadership and courage. I also appreciate your honest feedback and the feedback of your principals and teachers. Above all, I salute your continuing determination to advance reforms that will benefit millions of students in states and across America. This is hard work and the need for change is urgent.


 Arne Duncan


Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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