Despite mixed results, Ybarra wants more money for mastery

Idaho schools chief Sherri Ybarra wants more state funding for a program designed to help students “master” their content, even though three years into the program standardized test scores remain mixed at participating schools.

The latest round of Idaho Standards Achievement Test scores show that at least 18 of Idaho’s 32 mastery learning schools did not reach the statewide proficiency average in math, according to State Department of Education numbers. At least 19 of the schools did not reach average proficiency in English language arts.

Early-reading scores are better, with at least six of 11 elementary schools exceeding the state average on the Idaho Reading Indicator, which gauges reading proficiency among K-3 kids.

Ybarra’s newly released budget request calls for a $500,000 boost for the state’s mastery-based pilot program, which is made up of 19 “incubator” teams comprising the 32 schools across the state.

Idaho’s mastery-based pilot program is made up of 19 “incubator” teams comprising the 32 schools across the state.


Ybarra’s proposed increase would bring state funding for mastery from $1.4 million to $1.9 million — and allow the State Department of Education to further the program’s expansion.

Ybarra said the SDE is “closely” tracking both the schools’ ISAT and IRI scores, but “it’s still too early to see any trends.”

“I do expect to see better outcomes,” she told EdNews, adding, “We’re looking at at least five years minimum to start looking (for) trends.”

Ybarra justified her proposed funding increase — the largest of her nearly $2 billion budget request — by citing “overwhelmingly positive” feedback at mastery pilot schools across the state.

“Students I’ve talked to love it,” she said. “They want to take responsibility for their learning, and this is a chance to do that.”

She also said the schools did a lot of planning in their first years of implementing mastery.

Now in their third year, the pilots are part of a broader push to move away from a K-12 system based on seat time and toward one based on development. In 2013, then-Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education pegged a transition to mastery as a top priority.

The 2015 Legislature approved funding for the program. Mastery has been a line item in the state’s K-12 budget ever since.

Idaho lawmakers approved expanding the mastery network during their 2019 session, but froze the budget. Ybarra said her requested increase is aimed at securing enough funds for further expansion.

“This budget request aims to fill that gap and sustain Idaho’s transition to mastery-based education,” she said.

Click here to see how participating schools performed on both the most recent ISAT and IRI.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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