Idaho loses ground on the ISAT amid pandemic

The share of students deemed proficient in reading and math by the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) declined during the pandemic, exacerbating a years-long trend of the state failing to meet its own standardized test goals.

EdNews compared 2021 numbers to data from the 2019 Idaho Report Card, which captures results from continuously enrolled students. The comparison showed nearly across-the-board declines.

Students scoring “proficient” or “advanced” in 2021 shrunk by 5.5 percentage points in math and by 1.5 percentage points in language arts from pre-pandemic levels. Proficiency fell by those rates when compared with the report card data, which includes students who outperformed their class as a whole by 0.2% in math and 0.6% in language arts on the 2019 tests.

Math scores’ outsize slide covered a wide range of students. Every demographic group the state breaks out in federal reporting — including Latino or Hispanic, economically disadvantaged and white students — lost ground on the math test since 2018-19, the last time the test was administered. Only Asian or Pacific Islander students staved off losses on the language arts test, improving by 1.1%.

“The onset of the pandemic in spring 2020 disrupted the ISAT along with all Idaho school operations, so we weren’t surprised that scores did not continue the gradual upward trend of the previous few years of testing,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said in a press release. “We expected an impact, and now we can use these results to move forward to rebuild academic performance.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic upended school operations and caused officials to cancel the 2020 spring ISAT altogether, students were already failing to reach state-set benchmarks. After the State Board of Education set goals for language arts and math in 2017, students failed to hit new targets in each of the following two years, despite modest gains between 2018 and 2019.

The state’s targets were created so Idaho could comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, an Obama-era federal policy that modified but continued to push laws forcing test-based accountability. After this spring’s setbacks, Idaho now sits more than 18% behind its math proficiency goal and over 14% back from its language arts goal.

(To see how the state has done in reaching its ISAT goals, click here.)

On the latest tests, gaps between students from marginalized communities and their peers remained stark, but marginalized students’ language and math proficiency losses were smaller than their peers’ in several cases. Latino and Hispanic students, for example, saw a 4.8% proficiency drop in math and a 0.8% decrease in language arts; that’s compared with respective declines of 5.5% and 1.3% among white students. Those results roughly match numbers from this year’s Idaho Reading Indicator test, which suggested that reading gains among Latino and economically disadvantaged students outpaced their white and non-economically disadvantaged peers, as EdNews reported.

Students with limited English proficiency felt the worst of the ISAT losses, both in math and language arts. See how other groups performed on the math test here:



Nearly 163,000 students, including third- through eighth-graders and high school sophomores, took the English language arts and mathematics ISAT tests. This year, fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders also took a new science ISAT, but no results were reported because it was a “field test,” used to check whether the test functioned as intended and to help design the final test form. That test will be administered next year for the first time.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that EdNews compared 2021 data to 2019 Idaho Report Card data, the latter of which tracks results from continuously enrolled students who preform slightly better on the ISAT than other students. It's also been corrected to reflect that student proficiency fell by 5.5 and 1.5 percentage points in math and language arts respectively, not by 5.5 and 1.5 percent. 

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

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday