State Board reviews reports on test scores and staff shortages

The share of students deemed proficient in reading and math by the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) improved this year, after the state saw nearly across-the-board drops in 2021

But the improved scores still do not approach the state’s standardized testing goals, according to a report presented to the State Board of Education during its Thursday meeting. 

There wasn’t much discussion on the scores, but board members expressed excitement about EVAAS, a tool that will help school districts take a deeper dive into their data.

This year’s math scores saw the biggest improvement with 41.9% of students reaching proficiency, up 2.3 percentage points from last year. Yet, the score still falls far short of the state’s proficiency target of 61.1%.

English scores saw a slim increase: 54.8% of students reached proficiency compared to last year’s 54.1%. The score is also below the state’s target of 68.7%

Percentage of students scoring proficient or higher

  2016          2017          2018      2019       2020       2021           2022         Proficiency goal
ISAT ELA   53% 52%           53.7%        55%            NA 54.1%         54.8%        68.7%
ISAT math   41.4% 41.7% 43.6% 44.4% NA 39.6% 41.9% 61.1%

The 2022 scores also highlight some areas for improvement – 67% of sophomores scored basic or below basic on the ELA math test. But the scores tell an old story — most of Idaho’s 10th graders have failed to achieve proficiency in math for years. 

Percentage of sophomore students scoring below proficient

  2016        2017           2018          2019          2021        2022        
ISAT math   69.4% 68.1% 67.2% 66.7% 67.4% 66.9%

Tracking the ISAT math data for 2022’s 10th grade cohort did show some small but steady improvements until this year — and after the pandemic’s greatest education disruptions.

Percentage of students scoring below proficient

  2016 grade 4       2017 grade 5       2018 grade 6     2019 grade 7       2022 grade 10      
ISAT math   50.1% 46.3% 46.4% 42.1% 66.9%

On the English side, 39% of sophomores scored below proficient on the ELA test. That percentage has largely remained static since 2016. 

Third graders had the greatest percentage of students below proficient on the 2022 ISAT English test — 50.7%.

Board reports decrease in teacher openings since May, but concerns remain

There are still 134 certified staff openings in school districts across the state, the State Board reported Thursday. It’s an improvement from the over 700 openings the board reported in May, but still higher than usual, said board member Linda Clark.

The numbers come from a survey conducted by the Idaho Association of School Administrators. The organization received responses from 87 of Idaho’s 115 districts. Openings in special education, math and science have been the hardest to fill, according to survey results.

Since the spring report, districts have filled over 500 vacancies. Some have hired qualified applicants, but Clark said many are resorting to a “warm bodies” approach. 

Using long-term substitute teachers and paraprofessionals, and eliminating electives to fill classrooms is not uncommon, said Clark. 

The State Department also reported in September that the number of applications for emergency authorizations — endorsements that let educators teach outside their content areas for up to a year — is significantly up from this time last year. 

“While all of those are stopgap measures, I think as a board it should heighten our concern about the quality of education that is going to be able to go on in those classrooms,” Clark told the board.

The board plans to propose a teaching apprenticeship program during the 2023 legislative session, which starts in January. The program would help districts fill vacancies with staff who are interested in becoming certified teachers.

Members also acknowledged teacher pay and a lack of support in schools as factors in the shortage, but did not land on a sweeping solution.

“I’m not sure what exactly we can do about it, except…make sure we have the data and put in front of people to rebuild the support systems,” said board secretary Dave Hill, concluding the discussion.

Other action:

With a two-day agenda, the board took action on, and heard, a number of items at its October board meeting. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The board approved changes to the ESSA plan, a statewide outline of student achievement goals and indicators for school success. With the approved changes, the board extended the 2022 long-term goals to 2023 as a response to the pandemic. The move also added chronic absenteeism as an indicator of K-8 student success, replacing student engagement survey data.
  • The State Board approved the land sale that will allow the University of Idaho to develop a 638-acre dairy research site north of Rupert. The 2,000-head dairy — the U of I Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, or CAFE — will host research in a range of subjects, such as food safety, water use, wastewater management and odor and emissions control. The acreage will revert to the state land endowment; the Idaho Land Board approved the transfer in September.
  • The board heard a report on Advanced Opportunities (AO), a program to help high schoolers kick-start their college education. The report found that except for a dip during the 2020-2021 school year, AO participation is rising. A gender gap in program usage persists, with male students participating at lower rates than female students. Hispanic students also participate at lower rates than white students.
  • Lewis-Clark State College President Cynthia Pemberton reported an unusual enrollment increase that bucks national trends. The college’s male enrollment has increased by 8%, with an unexpected increase in students studying the humanities. Pemberton said she is unsure what drove the increase, “but I’m delighted that it happened.” (Click here to read an analysis of the enrollment increases at all four four-year schools.)

Reporters Carly Flandro and Kevin Richert and data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

Sadie Dittenber

About Sadie Dittenber

Reporter Sadie Dittenber focuses on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley. You can follow Sadie on Twitter @sadiedittenber and send her news tips at [email protected]

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