Idaho students’ school test scores are up, and every grade statewide is either near the national average or above it.
“I think that is a wonderful accomplishment,” state Superintendent of Schools Anne Fox said Wednesday. “I can’t tell you how proud I am.”
The results are from the third year of Fox’s expanded testing program for children in the third grade through high school.
The Coeur d’Alene School District also saw improved scores that exceeded state averages in every academic area. Specifically, Coeur d’Alene sixth-graders performed better in reading than 79 percent of the students nationwide who took the test. Seventh-graders scored in the 82nd percentile in science and the 75th percentile in reading.
Fox’s intensive testing program has been controversial, with teachers and others complaining about the time taken up for testing that might be used for instruction.
“Right now, it seems to be working for us,” Fox said.
She said less-extensive testing in earlier years showed Idaho students falling below the national average.
The statewide results showed the strongest gains among seventh-graders, who scored at the 60th percentile nationally in their composite scores for all subjects and at the 62nd percentile in core subjects - reading, language and math.
That composite score is up 9 points from the scores the same youngsters had in the first year of the testing program, when they were in fifth grade. The core subjects score is up 14 points.
Ninth-graders showed the least gain, staying even in composite scores at the 60th percentile and dropping 5 points from 61st to 56th in core subjects.
Fox said that grade grew by 500 new students. She also noted that special education students were encouraged to participate in testing in 1997 for the first time. They will be required to participate next year.
Although total scores were up in Coeur d’Alene, third-graders showed difficulty in spelling, scoring only in the 36th percentile, and ninth-graders faltered in math computation, scoring just in the 30th percentile.
The lowest scores statewide were in the third grade, at the 53rd percentile overall but at just the 48th percentile in core subjects. That’s just short of the 50th percentile, which is the national average. Within the core subjects, the third-graders were at just the 40th percentile in language.
Fox said weaknesses appear to be in elementary spelling, capitalization and reading accuracy.
“This is a compelling reason why we are bringing forth our phonics legislation,” she said. “We will focus our in-services (teacher training) in this area and encourage our teachers to stress accuracy in teaching writing.”
Fox’s two pieces of legislation may stir controversy.
She will ask the upcoming Idaho Legislature to require all school districts to give 45 minutes daily instruction in phonics to kindergartners and first-graders. That would impose statewide standards on local school districts, which traditionally have been given great autonomy in Idaho.
She also wants to require three semester-hours of phonics instruction in the six hours of reading instruction required to obtain a teaching certificate.
Fox credited a back-to-basics push for the improvement in test scores.
“We launched a major campaign with our school districts to focus on academic achievement,” she said.
Gov. Phil Batt, who joined Fox at a Boise news conference to announce the results, said he was happy to see a return to teaching of basics.
He acknowledged there’s been criticism of Fox’s testing project. “I’m not one who shares that view,” he said. “The fact that we can track these things so closely indicates that the time is worth it, and I am happy to see the upturn in results.”
Batt said he returned from a national conference convinced that the way to help education was to set “realistic goals and then test to be sure we got there.”
The scores were from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and Tests of Achievement and Proficiency.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Idaho test scores
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.