Idaho’s Teacher of the Year calls for changes in standardized tests

Idaho Teacher of the Year Todd Knight’s first address to lawmakers was pointed: “Standardized tests are not helping our students or teachers in the way they are currently administered, written and used.”

He especially took issue with the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, which is administered to students in grades 3-8 and 10 at the end of each school year. Knight told the House Education Committee Wednesday that he and many of his fellow educators believe tests like the ISAT are too high stakes, have unclear questions, and “don’t foster a love of learning, nor do they nurture a growth mindset.”

The ISAT in particular, he said, puts too much emphasis on how many students score highly enough to be deemed “proficient” in certain subject areas, with no regard for whether individual students improved throughout the school year.

“Policymakers and superintendents propose and initiate policies based on numbers, charts and graphs. They look at the final product of a single test to determine the proficiency of teachers and students within their district or area of influence. However, teachers see the tears, stresses, heartaches and difficulties students go through to achieve those scores. We see the lives impacted by the stress of taking a high-stakes test, compounding their already complicated lives and decisions each day.”

Knight said he also knows educators who devote two or three days each semester teaching students how to be better test takers, an instance in which the pressures of performing well on the ISAT erode away at valuable instructional time.

“To compound this issue, schools are celebrated and encouraged to compete with each other to determine the best school,” he said.

Further, Knight said, administrators urge teachers to give outsize attention to students who are close to hitting proficiency marks, causing them to neglect students who are far ahead or behind the pack.

“Is that fair? Is that right?”

Knight, a West Ada alternative school teacher, was named 2021 Teacher of the Year in September. He teaches science, engineering and coding at Crossroads Middle School in Meridian, where, as with other alternative schools, disadvantaged students receive extra support.

Todd Knight, center, poses with his wife Abby, mom Glenna Smith, and two daughters after winning the 2021 Teacher of the Year award. Sami Edge/IdahoEdNews

The 12-year career teacher used his presentation before the powerful committee to request that lawmakers add interim ISAT testing near the start of the school year, and to use the new numbers to track students’ progress throughout the school year — not just from one spring to the next. (Schools can offer testing throughout the year now, but the state only collects end-of-year marks for its annual report card evaluating K-12 schools’ performances.)

His focus isn’t new. State superintendent Sherri Ybarra praised Knight’s emphasis on student growth over achievement scores the day he was named Teacher of the Year, EdNews previously reported.

The ISAT was first developed to satisfy federal requirements cemented by the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, an historic law that forced test-based accountability in school agencies across the U.S. Now, the test fulfills revised requirements set by the Every Student Succeeds Act, No Child Left Behind’s Barack Obama-era predecessor.

House Education Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, noted Wednesday, “If we don’t offer … an ISAT-type test, we jeopardize potential funding for some of the key issues that you might be concerned with.”

But Clow joined his Vice Chairman Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, in noting that committee members have scrutinized the ISAT, and said policy shifts could be forthcoming.

Said Clow, “I think a big group, at least of this committee, is in concurrence that we probably need to do some major change.”


Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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