State identifies lowest-performing public schools

State Department of Education officials Wednesday listed Idaho’s 29 lowest-performing schools, as part of a new accountability plan.

Each school will remain on the list for three years and is eligible for extra support designed to turn the schools around.

“We’re not identifying schools for ridicule or anything else,” said Karlynn Laraway, the SDE’s director of assessment and accountability. “We’re really focused on the schools’ needs and supporting them for improvement.”

How the schools were identified

The schools were identified based on multiple criteria state leaders established after accepting public suggestions in 2016 and 2017. Schools on the list fall within the bottom 5 percent for performance, once all the factors were calculated and weighted.

The criteria include:

  • Student achievement in math and English language arts on standardized tests.
  • Student growth at the K-8 level (the percent of students on track to be proficient in three years).
  • Growth to proficiency of English language learners.
  • Results of student surveys administered to K-8 students.
  • High school graduation rates.
  • College and career readiness indicators for high schools and alternative high schools including participation in advanced opportunities, Advanced Placement courses, International Baccalaureate programs or students’ earning industry recognized technical certificates.

The schools on the list come from all points of the state. Two came from the largest school district, West Ada, while some came from small rural districts such as Culdesac or Firth.

More than half of the schools on the list are elementary or middle schools, which isn’t surprising because K-8 schools outnumber high schools. Many are alternative high schools or alternative middle schools.

The list contains two charter schools, six non-Title I schools, five alternative K-8 schools and 11 schools on a four-day week.

Demographics were a recurring theme. At least 21 of the 29 schools had poverty rates above the state average, based on eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch.

Another criteria is participation on standardized tests. That criteria appears to be a factor for least one school — Madison Junior High in Rexburg. School board members, the superintendent and parents there resisted taking the state’s Common Core-aligned standardized tests before reluctantly administering it. State records show that fewer than 86 percent of Madison Junior High students took the ELA or math tests in both 2015-16 and 2016-17.  A State Department of Education fact sheet devoted to academic achievement states “when a school fails to reach this threshold, federal law requires that Idaho use the number of students that would represent 95 percent as the denominator in the proficiency rate calculation.”

Overall, Laraway said, low student achievement and a lack of improvement were the most common factors leading to a school winding up on the list.

Here is the list of Idaho’s lowest performing schools:

  • Another Choice Virtual Charter School.
  • Bruneau Elementary School, Bruneau.
  • Cascade Junior-Senior High School, Cascade.
  • Crossroads Middle School, Meridian.
  • Culdesac School, Culdesac.
  • Elk City Public School, Elk City.
  • Firth Middle School, Firth.
  • Fort Hall Elementary School, Fort Hall.
  • Gooding Middle School, Gooding.
  • Heritage Academy, Jerome.
  • High Desert, Shoshone.
  • Howe Elementary School, Howe.
  • Kinport Academy, Pocatello.
  • Lakeside Elementary School, Plummer.
  • Lakeside High School, Plummer.
  • McCain Middle School, Payette.
  • Madison Junior High School, Rexburg.
  • Magic Valley Alternative High, Twin Falls.
  • Pathways Middle School, Meridian.
  • Rimrock Junior-Senior High School, Bruneau.
  • Rivervue Academy Alternative, Caldwell.
  • Shoshone Middle School, Shoshone.
  • Stone Elementary School, Stone.
  • Teton Middle School, Driggs.
  • Twin Falls Bridge Academy, Twin Falls.
  • Wendell Middle School, Wendell.
  • West Jefferson Junior High School, Terreton.
  • Wilder Middle School, Wilder.

This is the first time Idaho education leaders have identified low-performing schools in this way. The state has been without an accountability plan since repealing a divisive five-star rating system in 2014. ESSA mandates a new accountability plan, and Idahoans who testified at public meetings in 2016 and 2017 were opposed to creating a new accountability plan that issued overall “summative ratings” based on just a single, high stakes test. That’s why multiple academic indicators are baked into this new system, which the feds approved as part of Idaho’s ESSA compliance plan in March.

What’s next

Now that they have been identified, schools will assemble leadership teams and begin developing an improvement and turnaround plan. Each school will be assigned its own education and improvement coach that state officials call a “capacity builder.” Idaho State University, Boise State University and University of Idaho will supply the capacity builders, who will work with school leadership teams to develop turnaround strategies.

On top of that, schools that serve low-income families and are classified as Title I schools will split $2.1 million in federal funding that is designed to help low-performing, low-income schools improve.

The SDE has scheduled meetings in September for each of the 29 schools’ leadership teams and capacity builders to get together.

What if my child’s school is on the list?

The timing couldn’t be worse for schools on the list, because the new school year begins next week in many districts across the state. Winding up on the list is bound to sour the first day for many parents, educators, administrators and taxpayers.

Even so, Laraway is urging parents not to immediately pull their children out of a low-performing school. She points out that the low-performing list is just one way to measure a school and everything that goes on inside it. Instead, she suggests parents become involved. Ask the building principal why the school is on the list. Volunteer to help out in the classroom. Attend a school board meeting and follow the development of the turnaround plan.

“One thing coming to school with the identification is a wealth of support from resources,” Laraway said. “We know change doesn’t happen overnight. We want parents to stay engaged and involved. This isn’t a gotcha, this is how can we help.”

SDE officials will again in 2021 calculate a new low-performing schools list. Schools on this year’s list can avoid being on it next time by not falling within the bottom 5 percent of the state’s criteria. On top of that, schools will need to perform above the 20th percentile for math and reading and submit a written plan to sustain improvement.

SDE officials began calling superintendents whose schools made the low performing list on Thursday. As of Tuesday, SDE officials said they could not reach superintendents serving over two of the schools, so they emailed written notice to the district instead.

“It was really important to the SDE that superintendents be notified ahead of time, so they could share that information with the staff and (school) board so no one is blindsided when the announcement goes out,” Karen Seay, the SDE’s federal programs director said.

Further reading: State identifies top-performing high schools. 

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed research to this report. 

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