Use data to mobilize community action

Idaho Business for Education (IBE) recently released the 2015 Idaho College and Career Readiness Report. This report is a strong indicator of how many Idaho high school students are prepared to take on the rigors of postsecondary education.

Sharing metrics always comes with some risk. People may misinterpret what the data means. So let me be clear: These scores are not an indictment of our teachers or our schools. We have hard working teachers and professionals across the state. Rather these scores are a reflection of our communities’ historical priorities.

Bob Lokken
Bob Lokken

The idea for this report originated with the Governor’s Taskforce on Education and was supported by the Idaho State Board of Education. The report includes information about student SAT scores broken down by individual high schools and districts across the state.

Using the SAT as a measurement of college and career readiness supports the State Board’s 60 percent goal — that 60 percent of our 25-34 year-olds will hold a postsecondary credential by 2020. Achieving this goal is critical to both Idaho’s economic future and the future of our young people.

The report shows that roughly 20 percent of the public high school juniors who took the SAT can be considered fully “college and career ready” based on a rigorous standard of 500 in each of the three subject areas. This level of achievement prepares students for success by nearly eliminating the need for remediation.

Some say the 500 benchmark is too high, but even lowering the standard doesn’t materially change the result. Others question using SAT scores for this type of measurement, but Idaho’s very low go-on rate and very high remediation and drop-out rates confirm the SAT indicator. The conclusion is always the same: We still have a large gap between where students are achieving today and the 60 percent goal.

If a community wants a different outcome, it is critically important that community leaders and parents understand this data and set different priorities. The transformational change needed to attain the 60 percent goal necessitates laser-like focus on student achievement.

Today’s students who are not achieving at the 500 level should not be discouraged. This scoring method is an approximation. In most cases, individual scores reflect classes taken, or not taken, while in high school. (Taking easy classes and avoiding challenging subjects will likely show up in a student’s SAT scores.) However hard work and persistence can defeat most barriers.

Idahoans should not be discouraged by this gap. Rather they should use it to mobilize community action. We already have emerging bright spots in efforts like dual credit coursework. And other states — including the highest performing state, Massachusetts — started where we are today, and became a global leader in public education.

We can close this gap with an unrelenting focus on student achievement. But first, each Idaho community must want and choose a brighter future for itself and for its young people.

Bob Lokken is the chair of Idaho Business for Education, a group of 146 business leaders across the state who are committed to strengthening Idaho’s education system.