Reform group praises a piece of Idaho’s accountability plan

Idaho’s new accountability framework is coming under fire at home.

But on Tuesday, education reform advocates gave Idaho high marks for one piece of its plan.

The Idaho proposal does a good job of focusing on the needs of high-achieving high school students, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Thomas H. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C., group that is also active in authorizing charter schools in Ohio.

In focusing on high-achieving high school students, the Fordham report focused on what the group considered a flaw in the federal No Child Left Behind education law. No Child Left Behind “strongly incentivized schools to focus exclusively on low-performing students’ ‘proficiency’ and high school graduation rates, ignoring the educational needs of high achievers, who were likely to pass state reading and math tests and earn a diploma regardless of what happened in the classroom,” according to the report.

With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act — the federal law replacing No Child Left Behind — states can write their own accountability plans.

According to the Fordham report, Idaho’s proposal contains three components that will protect the needs of high-achieving high school students:

  • A “performance index” would give schools extra credit for students who perform at an advanced level.
  • A growth model would rank all students, not just students who are not proficient on tests.
  • High schools would be graded, in part, on how many students complete Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual-credit courses.

The one flaw in the Idaho plan, according to the Fordham report: Idaho does not plan to assign summative ratings to its high schools.

The accountability framework is part of Idaho’s larger plan to comply with ESSA. The State Department of Education released a 102-page draft of its ESSA plan in early November, hours before the first of a series of public hearings on the proposal.

During a hearing in Caldwell last week, parents and teachers said they felt cut out of the SDE’s process. The same day, when the SDE hosted a presentation on the plan at the Idaho School Boards Association’s annual meeting, only one of 20 trustees in the room said he had had time to read the document.

The State Board of Education needs to approve the ESSA plan before it goes to the U.S. Department of Education. However, the SDE will not meet its self-imposed deadline to turn over the draft to the State Board today. The State Board had been scheduled to vote on the plan in December.