Idaho’s ESSA plan receives mixed outside reviews

Out-of-state organizations are handing out mixed grades for Idaho’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

In a report issued Tuesday, the National Council on Teacher Quality praised Idaho for defining “ineffective teachers” and “inexperienced teachers.”

“Idaho’s definition of an ineffective teacher is based on its teacher evaluations system, which includes, among other measures, objective measures of student learning and growth that research demonstrates are critically important components of measuring teacher quality,” the report states.

At the same time, NCTQ analysts said Idaho’s plan is hampered by ineffective teacher data and fails to include meaningful timelines and “interim targets by which its educator equity gaps will be eliminated.”

“Idaho is missing a real opportunity for transparency here,” Elizabeth Ross, NCTQ’s managing director for state policy, said in an interview Tuesday.

Ross described the NCTQ as a nonpartisan policy group that believes all children deserve effective teachers.

Ross said she hopes the analysis will highlight best practices among states and help states do more to ensure low-income students and students of color have access to highly effective teachers.

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“We know this work is very difficult and equity gaps didn’t appear overnight,” Ross said.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Kris Rodine said NCTQ shared its findings, and the department affirmed the factual accuracy of the analysis.

Also Tuesday, the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave Idaho, North Dakota and California weak grades for ESSA plans.

The institute specifically criticized Idaho’s accountability plan, which hinges on a so-called data dashboard. Idaho education officials said the public supports a data dashboard, and said the design is important because it relies on multiple data points — such as graduation rates, test scores and English language proficiency among English language learners — instead of a single, high-stakes test.

“They rely on proficiency rates, don’t emphasize student growth and propose using a dashboard-like approach with myriad data points and no bottom line for reporting school quality to parents, beyond identifying their very worst schools, as required by federal law,” the Fordham Institute analysis states.

Before Idaho submitted its ESSA plan, State Board of Education members Linda Clark and Debbie Critchfield said they knew the feds could criticize the data dashboard approach. At the time, Clark and Critchfield said they would side with Idahoans who spoke out against a summative rating system.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and the rest of the State Board submitted Idaho’s ESSA compliance plan in September.

Even though state leaders are starting to hear feedback from research groups and think tanks, they have not heard from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who ultimately decides whether to approve state plans.

“We appreciate feedback from the NCTQ and other groups, and that feedback will inform our process as we look toward improving this ‘living document,’” Rodine said.

ESSA plans are not simply a requirement under federal law. They include states’ longterm goals for education and accountability. Idaho’s plan outlines an approach to implement nine federal programs and spend $83 million in federal funding annually.

Disclosure: The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation is among the National Council on Teacher Quality’s funders. Idaho Education News is funded through a grant from the Albertson Foundation.

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