Don’t always judge a school by its score

The highest and lowest scoring schools in Idaho’s five-star rating system aren’t necessarily the best and worst performing schools in Idaho.

Scoring can be skewed by enrollment or the number of students who participate in testing, among other things.

To find out which schools truly are showing the most growth and highest achievement, it takes an in-depth look at the results. The state plans to take that closer look, and reveal those high-performing schools, later this fall. Until then, don’t simply judge a school by its score.

“We can only calculate the star ratings based on the data we have available,” said Melissa McGrath, communication director for the State Department of Education. “We believe we calculated their star rating as close as we could with the information we had available.”

Idaho rates K-12 schools on a one-to-five star system — similar to the way Netflix rates movies. The more points earned on an intricate scoring system, the more stars a school receives.  The scoring system is based on multiple factors. For high schools, points are calculated from the following categories:

  • Academic growth.
  • Academic proficiency.
  • College and career readiness.
  • 95 percent participation. (In other words, 95 percent of students must be tested. Schools that do not meet this threshold will see their scores drop by one star — a penalty designed to discourage schools from cherry-picking test results.)

But not all schools follow the same formula.

Five Idaho schools received a perfect score of 100, thus earning a five-star rating. Four of those schools are alternate schools with less than 50 students in grades 9-12. Vallivue Alternative School received the other perfect 100 score and it also was influenced by a small enrollment of only eight students in the 10th grade.  The enrollment was so low in these schools that only graduation rates counted in their star rating.

“Basically, if a school does not have enough students for the state to calculate achievement or growth, we will use other measures to calculate the Star Rating. In the case of these schools, the state used graduation rates to calculate their Star Rating,” McGrath said.

Most of the schools that received the lowest rating of a “one” on the Star Rating system also were affected by small enrollment. When graduation rates are the only calculation being used, a spike of dropouts can quickly dip a score.

Another way the star ratings can be skewed is by the number of students who participate in testing, an anomaly that happened at Wood River High School in the Blaine County School District.  Wood River scored 85 points two years ago and 84 points the last school year but was given a “three” and then a “five” Star Rating in the respective years.

So why the change in stars when the points were almost identical?

Wood River did not meet the participation threshold by testing 95 percent of students in the 2011-12 school year so it’s rating was dropped to three stars. In 2012-13, Wood River did meet the 95 percent participation threshold and was no longer penalized.

The most affective way to find Idaho’s most successful schools is to drill down into the numbers. It will take weeks for officials to review the three-, four- and five-star schools to see how their points were distributed. These “Reward Schools” will be recognized by the State Board of Education this fall.

“It’s important to see where schools get their points,” McGrath said. “Reward Schools are those that have the most growth and highest achievement.”

The Star Ratings revealed earlier this month stick with schools for two years because of changes the state is making in assessments. The next Star Ratings will be calculated in 2015 and based on new assessments. has more stories about the Star Rating system, including a stories about the appeals process, trends of improvements and the performances of charter schools. Find any school’s points and Star Rating from the last two years by clicking here.



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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