School leaders share the secrets to their ISAT success

Secrets to ISAT success are as varied as Idaho’s schools.

In a rural North Idaho town, teachers have a pulse on kids’ individual needs, helping them to catch up when they’re behind or delve deeper when they’re ready for more. At an elementary school in a large Southern Idaho district, teachers set high standards for students and work together to maximize learning. And at a charter high school in central Idaho, career connections drive student achievement.

Leaders at some of Idaho’s top ISAT performers – Troy School District, Pocatello’s Edahow Elementary, and Meridian Technical Charter High – share the stories behind their accomplishments.

Troy focuses on year-round reteaching and enrichment to help kids succeed

Nerve-racking and scary.

That’s how Klaire Vogt, superintendent of Troy School District, used to describe ISAT testing day.

Now, students “sit down and knock it out.”

Vogt attributes the change in part to a partnership with an Arizona-based company called Beyond Textbooks. Since 2015, the company has helped the district better align its teaching with Idaho Common Core standards – which are basically specific learning goals – and provides resources and other support.

Since then, there’s been a culture shift.

“Kids are more engaged; they buy into their own learning,” Vogt said. “If they don’t get it, it’s okay … they know that if they need more time, they get it. They don’t have to wait until next year for additional support.”

Teachers and other staff members have worked hard over the years to immerse students in the standards, focus on goals one-by-one, and frequently assess learning with low-stakes check-ins.

If students need more help, reteaching is built in right away. And if they’ve got it down, they get immediate enrichment.

Here’s how it works: students are broken into appropriate groups within their classroom. Paraprofessionals then step in to help the teacher lead the small groups, providing each what they need – whether it’s more help or extra challenges. And if a student is still struggling after that, they are paired with an after-school tutor to keep drilling down on those skills.

“These kiddos are getting intense supplemental instruction,” Vogt said. “(The ISATs are) not something we cram for … It’s just something they do all year.”

There are only a few paraprofessionals on staff, so their days are carefully scheduled to get them in all the classrooms where they are needed to facilitate those groups.

The Troy School District earned the state’s highest ELA proficiency rate and second-highest math proficiency rate among traditional public school districts. The district serves about 320 students in grades K-12.

At Edahow Elementary, collaboration and high expectations propel top test scores

Pocatello’s Edahow Elementary earned the state’s second-highest ISAT math proficiency rate and was in the top ten for ISAT ELA proficiency among traditional public schools.

When principal Nicholas Muckerman shares the news with his staff, he already knows what they’ll say: how can we do better?

It’s the mindset there. Teachers set high expectations for themselves and for their students. When a high bar is set for students, it has a huge positive impact on learning.

“High expectations are the norm,” Muckerman said.

Collaboration has been another crucial factor.

Elementary teachers from across the district are “tight-knit” and work together throughout the year to troubleshoot challenges and share successes. They all work off district-wide, teacher-made unit plans that align curriculum to standards and provide guidance while still allowing each educator to have their “own flair and autonomy.”

Paraprofessionals make a big difference, too. They support the teachers, help with reading instruction and more, and are highly invested in student success. That kind of assistance is “powerful and valuable,” Muckerman said.

About 310 students in grades K-5 attend Edahow.

At Meridian Tech, “purpose creates passion.”

Meridian Technical Charter High School was among the state’s highest-achieving non-traditional schools on both the math and ELA ISAT.

Ask Randy Yadon, the school’s director and principal, and he’ll say it’s because the content is directly related to the careers students want to pursue after getting a diploma.

“That sense of purpose drives everything,” he said.

The school serves about 200 students in grades 9-12 and focuses on preparing students for careers like coding, computer engineering, web and media design, information technology, network support, and computer science. Usually, about 100 students are on the waiting list.

“It’s very clear why they’re here … they want to work in or understand more about how technology was created and works, and that drives effort,” Yadon said. “Purpose creates passion.”

Partnerships with kids, parents, the school board, businesses and the community contribute to the students’ success as well.

Yadon said he’s proud of the recent ISAT results, but made clear there are still a number of ways the school can improve. For example, 80% of the school’s students are male despite efforts to recruit more female applicants.

“We’re not perfect,” Yadon said. “We’re just an option.”


Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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