Statehouse roundup, 2.6.17: Science standards hearing set

The House Education Committee will hold a hearing on a proposed slate of new science standards at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Statehouse.

Gov. Butch Otter and the State Board of Education enacted the science standards on a temporary basis at the beginning of the year, but they will expire if the Legislature does not vote to extend the standards rule.

The complex rulemaking process allows the Legislature to approve, reject or amend the science standards.

A review of science standards sparked controversy at the Statehouse in 2016. Lawmakers rejected standards with little public explanation. However, at least one lawmaker had expressed concerns with language addressing human impact on the environment.

In rejecting last year’s standards, lawmakers retained old standards that had not been updated since 2001.

If the Legislature again rejects new science standards, the state will again revert to 2001 standards. The team of science teachers and educators that developed the most recent standards criticized the existing standards as “very broad and vague in nature.”

“In the last 15 years there have been significant advancements in science and technology; therefore, updated science standards are necessary,” the State Department of Education’s Executive Committee on Science Standards Revision wrote.

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The temporary standards are 75 pages long, and available on the State Board’s website (scroll to page 53). The new standards focus on inquiry-based learning methods and a three-dimensional approach that incorporates science content with crosscutting concepts and science and engineering practices.

The team that developed the latest standards includes some of the state’s most honored educators, and they based the standards on public feedback. The team includes 2016 Idaho Teacher of the Year Melyssa Ferro, STEM Action Center Executive Director Angela Hemingway and Boise School District K-12 science and social studies coordinator Chris Taylor.

New bill offers incentive for retired teachers

House Education kicked off the week Monday with a new bill designed to make it easier for retired teachers to return to the classroom.

If passed, the bill would reduce the age requirements for teachers who have taken early retirement to be able to return to the classroom, with no reduction in  retirement plan benefits.

Retired teachers 62 or older can return to teaching without a reduction in Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho benefits. The new bill would decrease that age to 60.

The bill would affect only a small number of teachers, but State Board of Education spokesman Blake Youde said it could provide a big benefit to small districts.

“This is one of several ways the board and Legislature are looking at helping to address the teacher shortage we hear about and see in Idaho,” Youde said. “In particular, the age restriction being addressed in this legislation is seen as one barrier to hiring retired teachers … particularly in rural districts.”

Youde said districts could use the bill as an incentive to attract qualified teachers to fill tough job openings.

The vote to introduce the bill clears the way for it to return to House Education for a full hearing.

Student data bill

The Senate Education Committee endorsed a bill designed to tighten controls over student data.

For the most part, Senate Bill 1033 makes a series of technical corrections to existing data security law. But on Monday afternoon, lawmakers focused on one complicated aspect of the bill.

If passed, SB 1033 would clamp down on multiple public records requests that, when taken together, would divulge data that would identify individual students.

Presenting this bill on the State Board’s behalf, Youde spelled out a hypothetical example.

He said a party could first ask for the number of male 10th graders in a school, and find out 20 students are enrolled. The party could then ask for the percentage of students who scored “basic” on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, and find out that 20 percent of male 10th graders fell under that heading. Taken together, a party could deduce that four male 10th graders scored “basic.”

In order to protect student privacy, and stay within federal law, the state generally redacts datasets that identify fewer than 10 students.

This kind of data privacy issue has not occurred in Idaho, but has occurred in other states, Youde said at a previous committee hearing.

On Monday, Senate Education passed SB 1033 unanimously, which means it could come up for a Senate floor vote later this week.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.