State Board: High school students shouldn’t be required to pass ISAT

If you’re in the high school class of 2018, your path to graduation could be a little easier.

Students won’t be required to pass the Idaho Standards Achievement Test in order to get a diploma, according to a rule the State Board of Education endorsed Monday.

In January, legislators will have the final say. If the rule passes either the House or the Senate’s education committee, it will go into effect.

There was nothing new about the language approved Monday. The class of 2017 isn’t required to pass the ISAT either. The State Board’s rule would keep this language intact indefinitely.

The State Board approved the rule on a 7-0 vote, but not without considerable discussion.

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra pointed out that the state is still tweaking the newest version of the ISAT, launched in 2015 and tailored after the new Idaho Core Standards. And she said parents are uneasy about seeing their child’s graduation tied to a single test.

Other board members expressed some reservations, and said the state is responsible for making sure a high school diploma means something. Board president Emma Atchley of Ashton said she was concerned by the senior projects submitted in her area’s schools — a wide disparity of work that ranges from “near illiteracy to college-level work.”

Regardless of the board’s vote, and whatever action the Legislature takes next year, the lengthy online ISAT isn’t likely to go away any time soon. The federal government requires states to administer a standardized test at least once to their high school students. The ISAT — sometimes called the SBAC exam, for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the multistate compact that developed the test — is Idaho’s standardized test of choice.

During a conference call Monday afternoon, the State Board considered 25 proposed rules that will go before the 2017 Legislature. The docket covers everything from the state’s new literacy initiative to bullying to teacher certification. And Monday’s discussion focused on a bigger topic related to the ISAT — the state’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

ESSA compliance: the latest

The State Board Monday gave unanimous approval for a new school accountability system, a piece of part of Idaho’s larger effort to comply with ESSA.

The new system is designed to move beyond the results of a single standardized test score to provide a broad picture of school quality and academic achievement, as well as progress toward goals.

The accountability framework is available on the State Board website (scroll down to TAB 8 to begin reading it).

As previously reported, the accountability system breaks public schools and charters into three categories:

  • Kindergarten through eighth grade schools.
  • High schools.
  • Alternative high schools.

As a result of public feedback, the State Board made several changes to the initial accountability system proposed earlier this year. Some of those changes include:

  • The board removed a proposal to track chronic absenteeism. In its place, the state will track results of a forthcoming state satisfaction and engagement survey that will be administered to parents, students and teachers beginning in 2018-19.
  • The board removed a proposed “teacher quality index,” replacing it with the parent and student surveys, and other forms of communication between parents and students beginning in 2018-19.
  • The board tweaked tweaked the measures that will be used to determine college and career readiness within the state’s accountability system to reflect “a combination of students participating in advanced opportunities, earning industry recognized certification, and/or participating in recognized high school apprenticeship programs.” The same definition will also apply to alternative schools.

The accountability system still must be built into the State Department of Education’s larger plan for complying with ESSA — a document the state must submit to the U.S. Department of Education.

“I’m confident, as well, that it is going to pass at the federal level,” Ybarra said.

Earlier this month, Ybarra and SDE put the brakes on submitting the department’s plan to the State Board after several educators, parents, educational groups and organizations said Ybarra’s office did not include their voice in drafting the plan.

The SDE will instead spend the coming weeks reviewing public feedback gleaned from five forums held this month, and incorporating that feedback into the state’s ESSA plan. The SDE will submit its plan to the State Board in early 2017, although a precise timetable has not been announced.

Idaho has been without a school accountability model since before Ybarra took office. In 2014, state education officials repealed the controversial five-star rating system.

Under federal requirements, a new accountability model must take effect during the 2017-18 school year.

The accountability plan will also go before the Legislature in 2017 — as a proposed rule subject to lawmakers’ review.

Idaho Education News’ Clark Corbin contributed to this report.