Luna changes course on Common Core test

(UPDATED, 11 a.m., Friday Jan. 17, with action from the State Board of Education.)

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has compromised with school district superintendents, agreeing to scale back this spring’s tests tied to Common Core.

Schools will now be allowed to opt out of field testing ninth and 10th graders.

Idaho’s original plan was to field test all third- through 11th-graders in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exams. At least nine Treasure Valley superintendents voiced concerns that the test — expected to take eight hours to complete — is too time-consuming, and will steal valuable classroom and computer lab time. Some wanted the test put on hold, phased in or replaced.

Luna said some of the superintendents’ requests went too far, but he agreed to scale back the testing.

“I, for one, am very appreciative,” said Boise School District superintendent Don Coberly. “I still have concerns about grades 3-8 testing but this helps.”

Luna presented the news Wednesday during a regional superintendents’ meeting, attended by school leaders from Boise, Meridian, Mountain Home, Emmett, Vallivue, Middleton and other districts.

On Friday, members of the State Board of Education voted 5-0 in support of giving districts flexibility to opt out of testing ninth and 10th graders during this year’s field tests.

“We appreciate the compromise,” Vallivue Superintendent Pat Charlton said. “This will make a difference.”

The SBAC  is designed to measure the teaching and learning to the new Idaho Core Standards in math and English language arts. The SBAC will be a lengthier and more difficult assessment than Idaho has ever seen, said SBAC executive director Joe Willhoft.

This year’s field test scores will not be used as a school accountability measure. Idaho will instead use the results as a gauge for administering the test in the spring of 2015, when school, teacher and students will be graded on the results.

“Based on what we learn this year, we can move forward to next year’s testing,” Luna said.

Under federal and state requirements, 95 percent of the students who are required to take the test must ultimately take the test. And originally, schools faced a possible reduction in their five-star rating if they failed to reach that percentage. The 95 percent threshold will remain in place for third- through eighth-graders and 11th-graders, but Luna said districts will not face a penalty if they fail to reach the mark.

“It almost sounds like the whole thing is flexible,” said New Plymouth Superintendent Ryan Kerby.

Luna bristled at the comment. “That’s definitely not what we’re putting on the table. The whole thing crashes and burns without an adequate field test.”

The SBAC exam faces some legislative scrutiny; Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, wants it scrapped entirely. He worries not only that the test is too long but that the “State Department of Education is not able to guarantee that pornographic passages or agenda-driven questions will not be on the SBAC.”