Educators complain about lack of public involvement in compliance plan

CALDWELL — A group of frustrated teachers and parents gave State Department of Education officials an earful about public outreach efforts Wednesday night.

More than 50 people crowded into the Canyon Springs High School gym for a meeting designed to solicit feedback on a draft of Idaho’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

After initial introductory remarks, state officials spent 25 minutes absorbing complaints and questions from parents and teachers who said they were never included in the state’s effort to draft the plan this summer and fall.

Melyssa Ferro
Melyssa Ferro

“I’m really concerned about the effort the state department has made to get teachers’ voices to be heard in a meaningful and authentic way and not just become a checked box on a form,” said Melyssa Ferro, Idaho’s 2016 teacher of the year. “It’s one thing to reach out with a series of emails … and it’s quite different to get out there in a meaningful way and really seek out those voices.”

Several other teachers, parents, members of the Treasure Valley Down Syndrome Association and paraprofessionals expressed similar concerns — saying their views and concerns weren’t heard as the draft was written and fearing the process is too far along for their feedback to matter.

Marcia Beckman, Idaho’s associate deputy superintendent over federal programs, and Karen Seay, the director of federal programs, emphasized that it’s not too late to provide feedback.

“When I think about where we are in process, I feel like it’s the beginning of the middle — it’s not too late to be involved,” Seay said. “Your comments tell us we can do a better job.”

Much of the discussion focused on proposed accountability and assessment policies.

Under ESSA, the state and districts will have flexibility with testing, particularly at the high school level. Districts may be able to choose between the ISAT by Smarter Balanced (the SBAC test) or a college and career readiness exam aligned to Idaho Core Standards, interim assessment director Karlynn Laraway said.

Other states, such as New Hampshire, have taken the lead in launching alignment studies to determine if the SAT or ACT aligns to their Common Core standards.

“If those states get federal approval, it would be a door-opener for us (in Idaho),” Laraway said.

Several educators proposed an accountability system that compares schools with similar populations or demographics, so students from Athol aren’t compared with students in West Ada.

Wednesday marked the fifth and final State Department of Education meeting to gather public feedback. The SDE released its draft of the ESSA plan hours before the first forum, held Nov. 1 in Blackfoot.

About 10 SDE officials attended Wednesday’s meeting, including Beckman and community relations officer Chuck Zimmerly.

The State Board of Education is expected to vote on the ESSA compliance plan next month, which would trigger a 30-day public comment period in January. State officials must submit their approved plan to the U.S. Department of Education by March.

Beckman said SDE officials will meet Thursday to begin incorporating public feedback into an updated draft of the state’s plan.

Have your say: Review the draft compliance plan online and submit feedback to the State Department of Education.

 Related story: Earlier Wednesday, State Board of Education and State Department of Education officials presented the ESSA compliance plan to school trustees, who asked similar questions about public outreach efforts.