Legislative roundup: 2.2.15

It wasn’t on Monday’s agenda, and no action was taken, but Senate Education Committee members quizzed state officials about the new statewide assessments aligned to Common Core standards.

Under questioning from Coeur d’Alene Republican Mary Souza, state assessment and accountability coordinator Angela Hemingway said the Idaho exam has not been normed to national standards. That’s because the test won’t be administered nationally; Idaho is part of the Smarter Balanced test consortium that is serving 19 of the 43 states adopting Common Core.

But Hemingway raised questions about one test that is being held up as an alternative to the Smarter Balanced test: the Measure of Academic Progress test, or MAP.

MAP’s own vendor says the “off-the-shelf” version of the test does not align with the entire core standards, Hemingway said. And since the exam is largely multiple choice, it does not test the extended writing skills that are a component in the Idaho Core Standards.

Monday’s question-and-answer session came amidst rising criticism of the Idaho Standards Achievement Test by Smarter Balanced, which will be administered statewide this spring. The Madison School District has proposed opting out of the Smarter Balanced exam, in favor of MAP. Rep. Ron Nate has proposed a bill directing state superintendent Sherri Ybarra to remove Idaho from the Smarter Balanced consortium. Nate’s bill faces an uncertain fate; on Monday, House Speaker Scott Bedke shipped the bill to the Ways and Means Committee, which meets only sporadically, and often at the speaker’s urging.

Before discussing Smarter Balanced, Senate Education swiftly approved an administrative rule that was sidetracked by the testing debate.

The rule in question seeks to define limited English proficiency students. But the rule also contains old language requiring 95 percent of a school’s students take the ISAT. Some Senate Education members wanted to take a run at repealing this wording — since a school that opts out from the new ISAT would run afoul of the requirement.

However, the committee can’t repeal this wording, at least by amending the limited English proficiency rule. So on Monday, Senate Education voted unanimously to adopt the limited English proficiency rule.

In other Statehouse activity Monday:

Improvement plans: The House Education Committee introduced a bill Monday designed to clear up a 2014 law pertaining to annual school district improvement plans.

Last year, lawmakers passed a law designed to enact one of Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education’s recommendations for annual planning and student improvement.

Some school districts interpreted that law as a call for a classic, longer organizational plan, said Marilyn Whitney, Otter’s senior special assistant for education and government services. But that wasn’t quite in line with what the task force envisioned.

“(The) original intent of the task force was each school and district would have an annual improvement plan with clear, measurable goals,” Whitney testified. “This legislation would clarify that.”

The bill deletes the phrase strategic planning and replaces it with “continuous improvement plans” and “annual continuous improvement plan.”

The new bill also reflects Otter’s recommendation to spend $752,000 in 2015-16 to train administrators and trustees.

The House Education Committee voted unanimously to introduce the new bill. It is expected to come back to the same committee for a full hearing.

State Board appointment: Debbie Critchfield’s appointment to the State Board of Education is headed to the Senate floor for a final vote. Senate Education recommended her confirmation Monday. Critchfield, the spokeswoman for the Cassia County School District, was appointed in July by Gov. Butch Otter, pending Senate confirmation.