Idaho’s SAT struggles — in East Idaho districts and charters

East Idaho’s latest SAT scores reflect a statewide slump that last week left state officials disappointed and confused.

Eighteen of East Idaho’s 28 school districts and charter schools lost ground compared to last year on the state’s key college placement exam, State Department of Education data show. Average scores throughout the rest of the state fell in 65 of 100 districts and charters.

Overall average composite scores in East Idaho’s 13 counties fell from 988 in 2017 to 979 in 2018. Statewide, average composite scores fell from 998 to 989. A perfect score on the exam is 1,600.

Idaho Ed News last year found SAT scores from the state’s 2017 graduating class to be middle of the road — at least compared to other states that make the college-entrance exam available to high school students, free of charge.

East Idaho’s five biggest districts, which together account for almost 64 percent of the area’s nearly 73,000 students, saw declines in this year’s average scores. Some smaller districts saw notable improvements.

State officials said they’re still not sure what caused the widespread drop. One official suggested this year’s juniors simply took the test less seriously.

“Are these results a matter of attitude or aptitude?” said Karlynn Laraway, the SDE’s director of assessment and accountability. “We don’t know.”

East Idaho’s biggest districts lost ground

East Idaho’s five largest districts collectively serve over 46,000 students. Each saw a drop in their 11th-grade SAT scores this year:

District 2017 2018 Change
Bonneville 1,002 998 -4
Pocatello-Chubbuck 1,012 987 -25
Idaho Falls 1,009 995 -14
Jefferson County 1,014 1,009 -5
Madison 1,061 1,043 -18

Last year, Pocatello-Chubbuck saw an 18-point improvement. This year’s 25-point decline represents a particularly significant drop for a district so large.

Pocatello-Chubbuck spokeswoman Courtney Fisher said tracking and analyzing SAT data is a priority for the district. However, she emphasized that Pocatello-Chubbuck’s 18-point upswing last year compounds this year’s drop.

“These 2018 scores are consistent with our 2016 scores, which indicates that 2017 performed better than expected,” Fisher said.

Fisher also pointed to recent changes  to the SAT. In 2016, the exam underwent far-reaching changes, from an optional essay section to a retooled vocabulary section.

“It’s still too early to pinpoint a trend,” Fisher said.

Still, Fisher added that the district is scheduling fall teacher training for both the PSAT, a student primer for the actual college-entrance exam, and the SAT. The training will focus on some particular areas of targeted improvements Fisher said, including social studies, science and technical reading.

East Idaho’s top performers

Despite an 18-point decline from last year, the Madison School District still managed to crack into East Idaho’s top five performers, along with one charter school and some smaller districts. Here’s a look at the top five and their average composite scores:

  1. Grace: 1,092.
  2. Rockland: 1,079.
  3. Soda Springs: 1,070.
  4. Madison: 1,043.
  5. Taylor’s Crossing Public Charter School: 1,040.

North Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy posted the state’s highest average composite score this year: 1,291.

East Idaho’s lowest performers

East Idaho’s five lowest average composite scores came in three rural districts and two charter schools:

  1. American Falls Joint: 898.
  2. American Heritage Charter School: 901.
  3. Clark County: 912.
  4. Idaho STEM Academy: 916.
  5. Aberdeen: 922.

Of all districts and charters, Wilder’s Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency Academy (COSSA), an alternative school, tallied the state’s lowest average score of 771.

Most improved

In Southeast Idaho’s rural Rockland School District, which serves some 180 students, the average composite score climbed from 945 to 1,075, a 134-point improvement.

The Soda Springs and Fremont County school districts posted improvements of 55 and 49, respectively.

Whose scores dropped the most?

Idaho Falls-based American Heritage Charter School posted East Idaho’s biggest decline over a year. The district’s average composite score fell from 1,053 to 901, a 152-point drop. Only the Highland Joint School District, in North Idaho, tallied a bigger decline, falling from 1,050 to 897, or 153 points.

Further reading: Click here for a statewide analysis of Idaho’s 2018 SAT scores.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.

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