Ybarra calls for change to controversial student survey plan

TWIN FALLS — The State Board of Education is poised to change its controversial plan to identify low-performing schools in part based on student surveys.

In October the board made waves when it announced that, beginning this year, students will provide feedback through electronic surveys that would be built into the state’s accountability plan. State officials even announced a tentative plan to use an already-developed Panorama Student Survey at a first-year cost of less than $20,000.

The idea is that students would take the surveys through the same online delivery system that is used on the Smarter Balanced (SBAC) assessment tests.

That feedback would be incorporated into Idaho’s Every Student Succeeds Act compliance plan, and then be used to publicly identify Idaho’s lowest-performing public schools for support and intervention.

Not so fast.

Administrators and teachers cried foul, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra.

After taking a look at the questions, administrators told Ybarra the survey was biased, they feared what would happen if the news media got ahold of the responses and that the whole situation would create a negative environment that would reflect poorly on the state.

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“Some of the perception is that is was poorly designed,” Ybarra said.

Instead, Ybarra proposed swapping out a different survey that school districts are already using, the AdvancEd student survey that is already used for accreditation in some areas.

“Rather than duplicate services, they are asking that it be something they are familiar with and they value and trust,” Ybarra said.

Ybarra and State Board member Don Soltman appeared ready to vote on making the change Thursday, but State Board member Andrew Scoggin urged them to pump the brakes. Scoggin worried that the new survey proposal had not been vetted among taxpayers, education groups and the public, and that an immediate change would not be transparent and could lead to unexpected problems down the road.

Scoggin also worried about the quality of the AdvancEd survey, saying he understands Idaho would receive a free, “stock version” of the survey this year and then have a more complete “suite” of survey tools available to purchase in future years.

The Every Student Succeeds Act requires that states include a so-called “fifth indicator” of school quality in compliance plans. Idahoans who gave feedback on the ESSA plan rejected or spoke out against nearly every other option available, including chronic absenteeism.

It is unclear if the potential change could affect approval of Idaho’s ESSA plan — or if U.S. Department of Education officials even realize details of accountability plan may soon be tweaked. On Wednesday, Ybarra said she expects to meet via conference call with the feds next week to learn if they will approve it.

Ybarra urged her fellow State Board members to immediately solicit public feedback and then convene a special meeting in mid-January to take action on the survey issue. Whatever decision the State Board makes, it appears will still need to be implemented during the current school year.

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