‘Pencils down!’: Find out what standardized tests are on tap ahead of summer break

My fourth-grader handed over results from a standardized reading test she recently took.

We were in her classroom for an event aimed at bringing parents to the school: “Donuts with Grownups.”

After a donut or three with some other families in the gym, we washed it all down with bottled water and ended up with a few other moms and dads in my daughter’s classroom for a morning art activity ahead of the school day.

That’s when she hit me with her test scores: a percentile comparison of how she stacked up with other kids who took the same test.

She was a colored dot on paper, but she looked nervous standing there in front of me.

She had no reason to be, I told her after glancing her scores. By Dad’s measure, she knocked it out of the playground.

She flashed a relieved look and moved on to the art activity.

The exchange was brief, but it stuck with me. The test, which wasn’t even state-mandated, affected her. And she seemed to have no clue how she’d compared to other kids.

It reminded me of the prominent place testing has in K-12, and the impacts it can have on kids.

I told my daughter about the standardized test of my elementary school days, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

“Bubble sheets?” she asked.

I also thought of the standardized tests I’d helped administer years ago as a high school English teacher. Some of my students seemed to relish state testing day. Others got queasy, their anxiety bubbling up like they’d been dropped into the middle of the ocean.

These days, it’s the IRI, the ISAT, the SAT and the NAEP that garner a range of responses from Idaho kids of all K-12 ages. And these don’t include the in-class tests to measure growth and track progress that kids take from day to day, like the one my daughter took.

Kids know what these things are. But how much do parents know?

With spring testing season around the corner, let’s review, starting with a crash course in the standardized test for Idaho’s early learners: the IRI.

Idaho Reading Indicator. Parents of elementary students, I’m looking at you.

The IRI is the state’s metric for gauging reading proficiency in the early grades. It goes out to all public K-3 students twice a year: once in the fall to see where kids are after summer break and again in the spring to measure their growth during the school year.

It’s a state-mandated test, but it has no sway on whether or not kids advance from grade level to grade level. 

You’ll see the IRI in EdNews headlines often because it’s a key indicator state leaders and policy makers use to gauge early reading — and how much kids improve after spending months in front of a teacher.

This spring’s testing window for the online-based test: May 2 through May 31.

Idaho Standards Achievement Test. AKA, the ISAT.

This test is administered online annually to students in grades 3-8 and 10. Starting next year, the test will be administered to 11th-graders.

High school freshmen get a break, but many go on to take the state’s college entrance exam of choice as juniors and seniors. We’ll get to that.

The ISAT measures mastery in math, science and English language arts, and has been in the news lately for recent changes to the state standards that align with the test — and coursework in classrooms across the state.

The state testing window: the last eight weeks of school.

Like the IRI, schools are required to administer the ISAT, but it also has no bearing on whether students advance from grade to grade or graduate from high school.

Per the State Department of Education’s website: “We primarily use these scores to help families, schools, districts, and the state understand and improve student academic achievement in Idaho.”

Scholastic Aptitude Test. Would-be college students, listen up.

The SAT is Idaho’s college entrance exam of choice, but since the pandemic hit, it’s also no longer a high school grad requirement in the Gem State. The State Board of Education waived it as a requirement in 2020, 2021 and again this year. The requirement is now permanently gone.

But the state still picks up the tab for students who want to take the test, which is administered internationally and covers five main areas:

  • Evidence-based reading.
  • Writing and language.
  • Math: no-calculator.
  • Math: calculator.

This year’s SAT testing day for juniors and seniors was April 13, though kids who can’t make that date can show up April 26.

Idaho students can also take a different college entrance exam, like the ACT, but students have to pay for it.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). AKA, the “nation’s report card.”

Most Idaho students won’t have to take this test, but some will per a congressional mandate aimed at breaking down learning among random samples of students nationwide every year.

Each winter, a random number of fourth- and eighth-graders from a random set of Idaho schools take the test, which most frequently covers reading, math and science.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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