Madison School District reluctantly administers standardized tests

Students in the Madison School District are taking the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) by Smarter Balanced this month, despite Superintendent Geoff Thomas’s attempt to opt out of the Common-Core aligned assessment last year.

Dr. Geoff Thomas
Madison Superintendent Geoff Thomas

“We’ve started the test and we are administering it,” Thomas said. “It’s the test the state wants to give, so we’ll give it.”

State officials’ concerns flared last year when Thomas, a critic of the assessment, attempted to drop the test in his district, which could have resulted in the state losing $11.6 million in federal funds. Thomas reversed his decision after a personal phone call from Gov. Butch Otter and legal advice from the school district’s attorney.

As a condition of Idaho’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, 95 percent of students had to take the end-of-year test for Idaho to receive $11.6 million. The potential opting out of larger districts such as Madison, which accounts for roughly 2 percent of Idaho’s K-12 enrollment, triggered concerns that other schools would follow suit and put the $11.6 million in jeopardy.

Idaho ended up meeting the lofty 95 percent threshold last year, according to State Department of Education spokesman Jeff Church. He also said there is no dollar amount at stake this year. Instead of financial sanctions, those districts that fall below a 90-percent participation rate will be a assigned a “Participation Outreach Program.”

Congress replaced No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on Dec. 10. The new law, which goes into effect Aug. 1, provides states with added autonomy regarding testing. For instance, under ESSA, college entrance exams like the ACT and SAT will satisfy assessment requirements.

Though Thomas complied with ISAT testing this year, he continued to criticize the Common-Core aligned assessment, touting both the ACT and SAT as better testing alternatives.

“The (ISAT) can take up to eight hours for a third grader to finish,” he said. “Ironically, none of our students opt out of the ACT or SAT because colleges and universities accept scores from those tests.”

Thomas also criticized the turn-around time for receiving last year’s ISAT testing data. It took about five months for his schools to get their results back.

Procedures are in place for Madison parents who decide to pull their child from the testing.

“Parents must physically come here and sign a form,” he said. “We want them to make a thoughtful, deliberate decision.”

Thomas did not provide Idaho Education News with the number of students opting out but he confirmed some had completed the form.

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra said the ISAT will be administered at least one more year.

Church said it is too early to tell how many Idaho students may opt out of this year’s test.

“I can say that districts have been great to work with so far. They seem to be accommodating our students,” Church said.