Consistent, thorough Idaho Content Standards should be retained

Once again Idaho finds itself trying to fend off unnecessary challenges to the framework that provides knowledge benchmarks for our students and teachers, the Idaho Content Standards. These standards provide consistency and vertical alignment throughout our K-12 public education system and enable students to build on the work they have done in previous years, with less remediation.

The standards provide shared benchmarks of what students should know at various stages of the academic careers, but curriculum decisions and specifics of how learning takes place are left primarily in the hands of education professionals at the local district level. Professional educators throughout the state call on the legislature to reject the opposition arguments that seem to focus on factors unrelated to the actual standards. The Idaho Content Standards set thorough, appropriate guidelines for instruction and learning, and should be retained in their current form.

The arguments in opposition to the Idaho Content Standards frequently mistake “standards” for “curriculum”. To the extent there may be issues with curriculum, materials, technology, or instructional methods, those should be taken up with local school boards/districts, where those decisions are made. They are not relevant to the Idaho Content Standards, which simply prescribe what students should have learned at various stages of their academic careers.

It is also not correct to equate “standards” with “testing”. If high-stakes testing is a concern, then let’s have a discussion about how much and what kind of testing we should be doing. Teachers share many of the concerns about the culture of high-stakes testing, including the appropriateness of tying educator evaluations and compensation to the one-day snapshot of student learning that comes with testing. Idaho students are over-tested, leading to unnecessary stress and valuable time taken away from their opportunity to learn. It is misdirected to throw out the content standards over issues with testing requirements and procedures.

There are many variables when it comes to student growth and achievement. School and classroom resources, poverty and hunger, access to technology, students’ mental and emotional well-being, strong foundations from early childhood education opportunities, and parental involvement are just a few. Only when Idaho addresses these very real barriers to learning will our state see substantial growth in student achievement. The Idaho Content Standards, or for that matter, the quality of instruction, are not the boogeymen critics would have you believe they are.

It is imperative that our students are well-grounded in real-world skills contained in the current standards, such as critical thinking, research and analysis, and evidence-based writing. The Idaho Content Standards set expectations for educators and students with information and skills relevant to today’s society, while also providing a framework for shared accountability.

The standards were vetted and developed by Idaho education professionals for use in our classrooms and are reviewed on a regular basis. In fact, both the English and Language Arts standards and the math standards are due for review in 2021. That is an appropriate time and venue for reviewing and (potentially) revising the standards. To reject all the Idaho Content Standards now would be short-sighted and would create completely unnecessary chaos.

Layne McInelly

About Layne McInelly

Layne McInelly is the president of the Idaho Education Association, Idaho's teachers union. He was a sixth grade teacher at Morley Nelson Elementary and served as the IEA's vice president for five and a half years.

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