With next month’s primary election looming, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra touted her legislative record and accomplishments Thursday.
Ybarra also pushed back against news coverage of her job performance, and state rankings publicized in media reports and used in an advocacy advertising campaign.
Speaking to 165 school administrators and educators at a post-legislative session conference in Boise, Ybarra didn’t name the targets of her scorn, and instead tried to use humor and sarcasm to defend her record. But she appeared to be responding to state rankings tabulated by Education Week and used in Don’t Fail Idaho’s latest advertising campaign, as well as recent Idaho Education News coverage.
Ybarra kicked off her 15-minute speech by highlighting results from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, released Tuesday. Idaho’s latest scores mostly aligned with national scores and were largely unchanged from the previous NAEP test in 2015.
Ybarra created a quiz to reveal the latest NAEP results. Ybarra highlighted eighth-grade reading results, where Idaho students beat the national average and were only outperformed by two states.
“That is nowhere near 48th in the nation, or last,” Ybarra said.
The 48th-place ranking is an apparent reference to rankings compiled by Education Week and released in January, well before the new NAEP scores were released. Don’t Fail Idaho cites a 48th place ranking in its campaign.
Ybarra said 81 percent of Idaho eighth-graders earned scores of “basic” or better on the NAEP math test. Student scores are classified as “below basic,” “basic,” “proficient” or “advanced.”
Ybarra said the basic-or-better classification translates to students performing “at grade level or better.”
But in their own materials, NAEP officials take pains to say their scores do not equate to grade-level benchmarks.
“Proficient is not the same as being ‘on grade level,’ which refers to student performance based on local standards and curriculum that can vary among school districts,” according to a fact sheet explaining the NAEP scores.
A score of basic “signifies partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work in a grade and subject,” according to the NAEP fact sheet.
In an e-mail to Idaho Ed News earlier this week, a State Department of Education spokeswoman confirmed that NAEP does not define “basic” or any other score as grade level. But the spokeswoman said Ybarra makes the comparison because NAEP’s “‘basic’ category is a higher level of subject competency than the ‘basic’ rating in the Idaho Standards Achievement Test.”
At several points Thursday, Ybarra said she was thrilled with the legislative session, and pointed to several highlights:
- For the fourth consecutive year, the Legislature approved a $100 million funding increase for K-12.
- After three years of hearings and controversy, the Legislature passed new science standards developed by a committee of teachers and industry professionals and put forward by Ybarra’s SDE. With the passage of new standards, Idaho teachers and students can expect a new science assessment in 2020.
- The education budgets included more than $40 million for teacher pay raises, as well as funding to cover training and health insurance costs and replace the Idaho Reading Indicator.
“I hope you can see that we have accomplished a lot by working together,” Ybarra said.
During the rest of her speech, Ybarra unveiled her Keep Idaho Students Safe school security proposal, which she plans to bring to the 2019 Legislature. And she vowed to continue her push for a rural schools center, even though the Legislature has rejected her plans for three consecutive years.
Ybarra also highlighted a minuscule increase in the Idaho’s high school graduation rate. State data show that between 2016 and 2017, the graduation rate increased from 79.66 percent to 79.67 percent.
“Actually it did increase,” Ybarra said. “It might be a smidge or a smooch or whatever you want to refer to it as. But an increase is an increase.”
Based on ninth-grade enrollment figures from 2013, Idaho Education News estimates the .01 percent increase translates to two students.
Those attending Thursday’s event included Wilder Superintendent Jeff Dillon, Ybarra’s opponent in the May 15 GOP primary. Also attending were State Board of Education President Linda Clark; West Ada Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells; Weiser Superintendent Wil Overgaard; Garden Valley Superintendent Greg Alexander; Melba Superintendent Andy Grover; Idaho Association of School Administrators Executive Director Rob Winslow; Idaho School Boards Association Executive Director Karen Echeverria; and state K-12 budget analyst Robyn Lockett.
Disclosure: Both the Don’t Fail Idaho campaign and Idaho Education News receive funding from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.