Our students are not ‘Failing Idaho’

My first reaction when I saw the ad was to yell at the television. What would bring anyone to produce advertisements declaring that 80 percent of Idaho’s teens are not prepared for life after high school? If you have not seen the ad, it shows a school bus carrying five students, four are left at the side of the road somewhere in Idaho’s desert and one remains on the bus. The announcer says, “4 out of 5 Idaho teens aren’t prepared for life after high school. If we don’t work together to change education we are all going nowhere.” The logo “Don’t Fail Idaho” appears. When you go to their website, you find that the Idaho Business for Education (IBE) and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation (JKAF) are misusing SAT data and a State Board of Education goal to make this ridiculous claim.

It makes me very sad that the J. A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation is undermining Idaho’s public education and the state as whole to promote its agenda. I worked for the JKAF for more than six years and know the love and commitment that Joe and Kathryn Albertson had for Idaho’s youth. They and their family have given so much to our state and I am forever grateful. However, this campaign leaves me perplexed as to why they would twist data to put Idaho, our schools, teachers, and our youth in the worst possible light.

The College Board (which produces the SAT) and universities that use these scores have never made the claim that not reaching a benchmark score on the SAT means you are not prepared for life after high school. The College Board states, “The SAT Benchmark score of 1550 is associated with a 65 percent probability of obtaining a first-year GPA of B minus or higher at a four-year college.” A test is one predictor of college success, but not the best. The courses our students take like dual credit and career and technical courses (such as auto, business, and engineering) are much better predictors of success after high school.

I am proud of our community, parents, students, teachers, and staff for the efforts each has made in providing a high quality education here in Gem County. Our staff works every day in preschool through high school to prepare our students for a successful future. They are continually improving teaching and learning for the advancement of our students.

These SAT scores come from a recent effort by Idaho and the Emmett School District to increase the number of students that are going on to some form of post-secondary education, whether trade school, two-year, or four-year college. The state now requires students to take a college entrance exam, like the SAT to graduate from high school. The state will pay for all juniors to take the SAT assessment and 88 percent of Idaho’s juniors are now taking this exam. Emmett School District has chosen to have the entire junior class take the exam. This is a great step to encourage students to attend postsecondary education and to help us align our curriculum to ensure students are college and career ready.

We gain a lot of good information from this assessment. This fall, our teachers dove deeply into the results to discover areas where we need to improve. It also allows our students to see how they perform compared to average scores from students enrolled in colleges and universities they are interested in attending.

It does make a difference when school districts and our state make bold moves to improve education. The College Board reported that in Idaho, “In 2013, 1,740 students met the benchmark. In 2015 that number of successful students more than doubled, with 4,250 meeting the benchmark.” We ought to be proud of the progress we are making not running advertisements saying we are failing.

To prepare students for life after high school, our teachers provide college-level, dual credit courses for our high school students. Just this fall, our students completed 168 courses earning 504 college credits through the University of Idaho, Boise State University, Northwest Nazarene University, and the College of Idaho. They were successful in courses such as college level math, chemistry, psychology, medical terminology, biology, history, and political science. We have had many students complete over 30 college credits before they graduate from Emmett High School. These students are clearly ready for college.

In addition, our students are participating in clubs, drama, music, sports, as well as many other community activities and events that help prepare them for life after high school. Our high school won first place in 3A State Football this fall and our girls just took 3rd place in the state basketball tournament. These students are learning what they can accomplish through grit and team work.

Idaho, our teachers and staff, and our students are not failing Idaho. We roll up our sleeves every day and work hard to prepare for a bright future.

Wayne Rush is the superintendent for the Emmett Independent School District in Idaho.

Idaho Education News is funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.