Star-rating system placed on hold

Idaho schools and charters will not earn a star rating during the 2014-15 school year.

The rating system relies on a variety of schoolwide and student data and largely measures growth but since Idaho students are moving to a new testing system based on their knowledge of Idaho Core Standards, it’s nearly impossible to measure growth, so the rating system will be put on hold.

“We need a transition year and then we’ll phase in accountability next year,” Luci Willits, chief of staff of the State Department of Education, said Thursday.

The one- to five-star rating system has been used to measure and recognize the academic performance in schools. Four-and five-star schools receive public recognition for academic excellence. One- and two-star schools are required to file a school improvement plan, and receive state assistance. Even three-star schools — considered good, according to the state’s scale — are required to write an improvement plan. (Click here to find your school’s star rating.)

The recommendation to put the system on hold came from a committee of about 20 educators and staff members. Committee members spent nine months reviewing possibilities before agreeing to this recommendation. The State Board of Education must still approve the move and it will be presented at an August meeting.

“We’re trying to find that sweet spot of accountability,” Willits said.

About 650 Idaho schools and charters earned a star rating at the end of 2012-13. Those old ratings still represent schools for the coming year, which is a concern to Linda Clark, superintendent of the West Ada School District.

“The test on which those ratings were based no longer exists and we need to help with the public perception that one- or two-star schools may not still be at the level,” she said Thursday, during a day-long superintendents’ information meeting hosted by the Education Department.

The star ratings relied on a variety of schoolwide metrics, including the ISAT test. Students did not take the ISAT this past school year. Students instead took a field test or practice test based on their knowledge of new and more rigorous standards. Those test results were not measured or made public. The operational test will be administer in the spring of 2015. Results will be made public in August 2015, Willits said.

When the results are released from the spring 2015  test — which the Education Department has named ISAT 2.0 — educators will have plenty of data but not an apples-to-apples way to measure growth. The two tests are different — and in the intervening year, 2013-14, no test results were measured).

“It’s doable, but it’s not clean,” Willits said.

The Education Department will create growth reports for individual students but no reports that can be used for school accountability. Student reports will only be generated if a district asks for them.

“I would caution you to not use it for teacher evaluation but I would highly recommend using it for communication purposes,” Willits said.

It’s feared that student scores will drop dramatically from the ISAT to ISAT 2.0, because the 2.0 test measures knowledge of higher standards, essentially raising the bar. A tool showing growth could reduce a perception that a student’s ability has dropped.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Tom Luna ends his eight years at the helm of the department in a few months. The winner from the November general election — Democrat Jana Jones or Republican Sherri Ybarra — can  chose to do things differently.

Idaho must still meet school accountability federal requirements, but can be done in other ways. The department can rank schools on proficiency measured by ISAT 2.0.

“We’ll report everything we can and everything we have to,” Willits said.

Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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