Spring test scores: a mixed bag

Scores improved — almost across the board — on Idaho’s standardized test.

But at the same time, Idaho students lost ground on a key college placement exam.

The State Department of Education released 2018’s test results Monday.

The two tests are entirely different; only their names are similar. But both tests are important.

The standardized exam, known as the Idaho Standards Achievement Test or ISAT, tests third-graders through high schoolers against the state’s Common Core standards.

The SAT is Idaho’s college entrance exam of choice, and the lackluster numbers come as the state is spending tens of millions of dollars to try to encourage high school graduates to continue their education.

‘Good news’ on the ISAT

Numbers improved in nearly every grade level, and both in math and English language arts.

The biggest improvement of the bunch: 44 percent of sixth-graders scored proficient or advanced in math, up from 40 percent a year ago. Elsewhere, proficiency rates held steady, or improved by one to three percentage points.

Significantly, these proficiency rates didn’t drop in any grade level, in either discipline.

“It is good news to see improvements in student performance across the board,” state superintendent Sherri Ybarra said in a news release Monday.

While the numbers trended upward, some familiar gaps lingered.

Students score better on the ELA section of the test — and their performance improves through grade school and into high school. Fifty-nine percent of 10th-graders scored proficient or better on the ELA section.

In math, scores continue to drop steadily from third grade through high school. Only 33 percent of 10th graders scored proficient or better in math, a slight improvement from 2017.

Ybarra’s news release highlighted snapshots of improvement in schools from Lava Hot Springs to Marsing to Nezperce, but the state did not release district- or school-level scores Monday. Those numbers could be released by late July.

‘Attitude or aptitude?’ A puzzling SAT drop

State officials admitted they were disappointed, and confused, by April’s SAT scores.

On average, high school juniors scored an average of 989 on the SAT, which has a perfect score of 1600.

A year ago, the average came in at 998.

Here as well, the split between verbal and math skills was considerable:

  • Juniors averaged 503 on the SAT’s evidence-based reading and writing section. And 58 percent of juniors scored higher than 480 — the SAT’s college-readiness benchmark that suggests a student is ready for first-year coursework.
  • Juniors averaged 486 in math, and only a third of them hit the SAT’s college-readiness benchmark.

State officials said Idaho’s drop wasn’t unique, but they’re still unsure what happened this year. One official suggested this year’s juniors simply took the test less seriously.

“Are these results a matter of attitude or aptitude?” said Karlynn Laraway, the SDE’s director of assessment and accountability. “We don’t know.”

Regardless, the state has taken the SAT seriously, hoping it will serve as a springboard to college. The state spends about $1 million a year to allow juniors to take the test at taxpayer expense, and as a result, nearly 20,000 juniors took the SAT for free in April. This also means the SAT scores provide a broad cross-section of student performance.

School- and district-level SAT scores could be available within a matter of days.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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