Trustees learn about Idaho’s developing education policies

By the end of the year, state education officials are supposed to approve a school accountability system and an Idaho plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

That’s why both topics were intriguing workshops for trustees attending the first day of the Idaho School Boards Association’s annual conference in Boise. The conference continues through Friday afternoon.

Education leaders charged with crafting the two policies made presentations and then fielded questions from trustees, who will be required to implement the policies in trial form this school year, and then officially in 2016-17.

“Were trustees included in the drafting of this plan?” asked Marg Chipman, a Weiser School District trustee and incoming ISBA president.

Sometimes, but not always, State Board of Education and State Department of Education staffers admitted. But they also emphasized there is still time to be heard.

“Not all took us up on the invitation to be on committees but there is a lot more engagement opportunities coming forward,” said Marcia Beckman, who presented the State Department of Education’s draft ESSA compliance plan.

The State Board’s Blake Youde and Tracie Bent discussed the school accountability plan with about 50 trustees and district leaders. The state department’s Beckman and Karen Seay presented the ESSA compliance plan to another 20 trustees. In both sessions, staff fielded questions and took comments in efforts to finalize the plans that will go before the State Board in the coming months.

Only one trustee in the ESSA workshop signaled he had read the 102-page draft plan, which was made public on Nov. 1 and will be presented to the State Board for approval at its December meeting.

The main objective of the ESSA draft plan is to identify Idaho’s lowest-performing schools — about 25 of them — using both proficiency and academic growth measures.

Trustees were concerned about what will happen to those schools and their leaders.

“Our biggest job is to identify those schools and get our support to them,” said Beckman, noting the department does not have the authority to oust elected trustees.

Instead, Beckman said, a department team will go to the community and talk to trustees about solutions for improving outcomes. The district would be eligible for a share of $4 million in one-time federal money devoted to school improvement. The state department team will help trustees decide how best to spend that money — perhaps on professional development, tools or curriculum.

“We’ll discuss with the board how we can change things up,” said Beckman.

The improvement process could take three years.

State Board staff presented ideas for its school accountability plan, a piece of the ESSA draft.

The State Board’s new accountability system — which comes with a public dashboard display of data and facts — will be presented this month.

“We want the system to have flexibility and use trustworthy data,” said Youde.

The accountability system must include an academic indicator that measures proficiency. Idaho officials want to add a feature that also measures growth.

The next step is to decide on a metric that measures school quality — possibly student absenteeism or opportunities for college or career readiness.

Youde said educators have favored using surveys of parents, students and teachers to measure school quality but there is concern of the validity of that metric.

The data dashboard, Youde said, will feature many characteristics and measurements of a school rather than awarding a school a symbol or grade. Idaho last measured school accountability in 2014 using a five-star rating system.