School districts brace for new learning standards

Even slight curriculum changes in the West Ada School District can take a lot of work, says curriculum director Dustin Barrett.

With over 40,000 students, Idaho’s largest district has to ensure that any districtwide changes are spelled out for thousands of teachers, and that they’re trained to execute them.

With a revised set of statewide learning standards now set to kick in across Idaho next school year, West Ada and others are bracing for the change.

The 2022 Legislature finally settled the years-long standards debate in Idaho last month, replacing them with a revised framework — and putting districts up against the clock to make changes.

A key part of the push: moving away from the controversial “Common Core” math and ELA standards first adopted in 2011 and modified in 2015. State science standards also underwent a range of changes.

Standards are important because they shape instruction for Idaho’s more than 312,000 public K-12 students.

But what changed and what didn’t? And what are state and local leaders doing to gear up for the fall deadline?

Here’s a closer look:

What are the standards, and why the changes?

Think of learning standards as a set of guidelines that the state’s K-12 students are expected to master as they advance through school.

Creating coursework still happens at the local level, by local teachers. But the need to align that coursework with an overarching set of federally rooted standards put in place over a decade ago never sat well with many Idahoans.

The Idaho Core Standards, the state’s version of the controversial Common Core, faced a barrage of blowback over the years.

So have the statewide science standards. In 2017, lawmakers took heat for deleting references to the human impact on the environment and climate change spelled out in the science standards.

In 2019, the Idaho Freedom Foundation circulated petitions pushing to repeal the standards entirely — sparking a round of State Board of Education hearings that found  teachers defending the standards and many parents decrying them.

Volunteer committees of teachers, community members and lawmakers of both major parties set out the last two summers to rework the standards under the State Department of Education’s direction.

Last month, the Legislature dumped the standards, and adopted those changes.

So what changed?

Changes to the standards span hundreds of pages and are available to view on the State Department of Education’s website.

The changes range from hundreds of minor wording tweaks to the replacement of entire sections of content. Some content-specific examples:

Science standardsA key part of changing these standards includes emphasizing positive impacts humans can have on the environment. One example: replacement of the word “impacts” with “influences” in various places. Other changes include replacing entire sentences. Here’s a before-and-after of one example:

  • Before: “Examples of human impact on the land could include cutting trees to produce paper and using resources to produce bottles. Examples of solutions could include reusing paper and recycling cans and bottles.”
  • After: “Examples of human influence on the land could include planting trees after a burn, protecting farm fields from erosion, or keeping plastic trash out of waterways.”

Math standards. A new introduction to these revised standards spells out key changes:

  • Reducing the number of standards and simplifying their language.
  • Adding clearer direction on when certain skills should be mastered and including more emphasis on “real-life problem solving” to help students connect to other disciplines, like science and business.

English language artsChanges to these standards also range widely, from wording tweaks to revisions on when students should learn concepts.

Several new standards surrounding phonemic awareness for kindergarteners and first graders are now applicable for second graders.

Simplified wording is also a theme. The word “phoneme” is struck out in various places, with the word “sound” left alone to describe the concept.

What leaders and other are saying

Perceptions of the changes vary widely.

The new science standards look a lot like the same ones Meridian Middle School has been using in recent years, eighth-grade science teacher Brian Lawless wrote on Facebook in response to a recent EdNews article on the changes.

Another reader, Debi Bean, chalked it all up to “rebranding.”

Rebranding or not, the changes — and the timeline for implementing them — have some  districts scrambling.

“It just has a different level of impact here,” said Barrett, reiterating the heavy haul to implement districtwide changes in West Ada.

Barrett pointed to professional development days already on the calendar as a result — meetings set for this school year and next, and over the summer.

A concern for Barrett: finding enough substitutes to fill in for teachers who need someone to cover their classes for meetings scheduled during class time.

Finding subs plagued districts across the state in recent months, as schools recouped from the impacts of COVID-19.

Working against the clock to get the standards in place presents other challenges.

The Madison district has yet to work out any implementation efforts, said the district’s director of assessment, Darnea Lamb.

SDE spokeswoman Kris Rodine said efforts are in place to help districts get things rolling.

“We are finalizing highlighted documents to make clear to educators and others what has changed in the new standards,” she told EdNews last week, adding that the documents will be available during the department’s post-legislative tour across Idaho this week and next.

Coeur d’Alene School District spokesman Scott Maben said his district is awaiting SDE guidance on the matter, hoping to use promised resources to “navigate how the new state standards align with our current curricula.”

Twin Falls spokeswoman Eva Craner did not respond to questions about efforts to implement the standards in her southern Idaho district.

Meanwhile, another unknown augments the standards overhaul: a price tag for the potential need to rework the current state test tied to the standards, the Idaho Standards Achievement Test. State superintendent Sherri Ybarra recently put the figure at anywhere from “$10 million to upwards of $55 million” over three years.


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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