Report: Idaho teacher preparation is lagging

Idaho is doing a poor job of preparing educators to teach to Common Core standards, according to a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

Last week, the National Council on Teacher Quality gave Idaho a D+ grade for teacher preparedness. The average state grade was a C; only 10 states graded out lower than Idaho.

Idaho’s subpar grades are not really new. Idaho scored a D+ last year, up from a D in 2011 and 2012. But this latest grade comes as Idaho and more than 40 other states are implementing their new Common Core academic standards. The Idaho Core Standards have been in place since the fall of 2013. This spring, for the first time, tests aligned to Common Core will be used to measure student growth and school performance.

Luna Andrus center
State Superintendent Tom Luna

Despite the grade, outgoing State Superintendent Tom Luna says Idaho is “way ahead of the curve, compared to many other states.” For one thing, he said, time is on Idaho’s side. The state approved Common Core standards four years ago and is in its second year of implementation. Now, the state has ramped up its teacher certification guidelines, with the state’s colleges of education better preparing teachers to teach to the standards.

The NCTQ’s “State Teacher Policy Yearbook” criticizes Idaho on several fronts. But one recurring concern was a lack of testing: The NCTQ says elementary and middle school teachers should be required to pass a content test for each subject they teach, and similar standards should apply to high school science and social studies teachers.

The Idaho report is punctuated by some pointed exchanges between state officials and the NCTQ, a bipartisan group that bills itself as “an alternative national voice to existing teacher organizations.”

Invited to respond in writing, state officials suggested the NCTQ’s recommendations were based on spotty research. “The state of Idaho will continue to make policy decisions based on what is best for the students of the state, taking research into consideration when appropriate.”

This drew a testy response from NCTQ. “There are many areas in teacher preparation where the research base for most effective practice is disappointingly thin. Yet there are clearly policy recommendations that can be made in students’ best interest — for example, that a teacher must know the subject matter she will teach.”

The NCTQ also criticized lax admissions standards for Idaho’s teacher preparation programs — saying applicants should be required to pass an admissions test or maintain at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA. “NCTQ is not suggesting that academic achievement should be the only criterion used for admission to teacher preparation programs, but it is nonetheless an important one.”

Instead, Luna said, Idaho has tried to raise the bar within the certification programs themselves. For example, students are required to develop an individualized professional learning plan, which they will take onto the job. These plans must demonstrate the ability to apply technology, standards and assessment in the classroom.

Idaho is among 11 states to receive a D+ grade. The list includes several highly populated states, including California, Illinois and Michigan, and other rural and sparsely populated states, such as Iowa, Maine and New Mexico.

Only three states received the NCTQ’s top grade, a B+: Florida, Indiana and Rhode Island. Interestingly, in 2013, Indiana became the first state to opt out of the Common Core standards midstream.

Two states — Alaska and Montana — received an F.

Disclosure: The NCTQ yearbook is partially funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which funds Idaho Education News.

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