Basic academic skills in Idaho are still lagging behind other skills, according to results from the latest Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
Though students statewide tended to score higher in advanced language and mathematics skills, the rudimentary skills - such as spelling and math computation - brought overall scores down.
“Considering we had more students take the test and a new test with a harder standard, our students did very well,” said Sally Tiel, state testing coordinator.
“There’s still room for improvement, but we’re right in the middle,” she said.
Several significant changes make it hard to compare this test with previous ones.
This year the Iowa Test of Basic Skills was shorter and did not include social studies or science. Fourthgraders instead of sixth-graders were tested, and the test was administered in the fall instead of spring.
“We changed the grade level, because there was an outcry from around Idaho to get information on younger students,” Tiel said.
The date was changed to allow teachers time to work on weak areas with their students before the school year is finished.
Some school administrators believe the timing may have contributed to low fourth-grade math scores in the area of computation.
Though half the problems on the test were multiplication and division, most fourth-grade students have only been introduced to those skills by the beginning of that school year.
And overall, “for some reason, nationally and locally, the higher-level thinking skills have increased and the basic testing on rudimentary skills have not increased as much,” said Becky Ford, curriculum director for the Post Falls School District.
Despite the changes in the test, some scoring trends in North Idaho stayed the same.
Kootenai and Mullan school districts were still the highest scoring districts in North Idaho, while Plummer/Worley remained at the bottom.
Kootenai schools Superintendent Ron Hill attributes his district’s high scores to good teachers and a focus on the basics.
“We try to make sure that kids spend time on learning and not on all the warm fuzzies,” he said. “You are limited to so many minutes and hours per day. Every time you have an assembly or something else, you take time away from kids.”
The lack of time spent “on task” is one reason the scores in the Plummer/Worley School District have been low, Superintendent Bob Singleton said.
Singleton moved from one of the traditionally higher scoring districts, Boundary County, to Plummer/Worley this fall.
“We have so many disruptions and behavioral problems in the classrooms. That, I think, is one of the major problems,” he said.
The schools are trying in-school suspension as a way to remove a disruptive child from the classroom and give the other students more time for learning, he said.
The district also is looking at ways to increase learning opportunities in the impoverished rural school district, where 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Singleton is hoping that a focus on parental involvement, increased technology in the schools, a new emphasis on coordinating the instructional programs, and higher standards will together raise the district’s scores.
But like most school administrators, Singleton doesn’t believe that ITBS scores tell the whole story.
“You have to look at them over a great deal of time,” he said. “They are one indicator and are beneficial in improving the curriculum.”