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Monday, June 1, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Of student achievement goals, school report cards, legal compliance…

Idaho state Capitol (Betsy Z. Russell)
Idaho state Capitol (Betsy Z. Russell)

The issues being discussed at today’s joint House-Senate Education Committees meeting are pretty detailed, but one major point of contention has emerged: The long-term goals for student achievement within every sub-group that had been set in Idaho’s proposed plan to comply with the federal ESSA were deemed extremely unrealistic by stakeholder groups, lawmakers and others, and are being revised.

Duncan Robb, chief policy adviser to state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, said that during a meeting yesterday convened by the state Board of Education with stakeholder groups and others, there was agreement to revise those long-term goals, which initially contemplated decreasing the percentage of students who aren’t 100 proficient in reading and math by 50 percent over six years – and applying that same percentage decrease to every sub-group, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and more.

State Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, a retired school district superintendent, pointed out that on reading and language arts proficiency for the base year of 2016, currently 15 percent of students with disabilities are proficient. “You’re going to try to get them all the way to 57 percent in six years? That’s really aggressive,” he said. “Then on English learners, we only have 6.9 percent of them proficient right now, and try to get clear to 53.5 percent – that’s probably clearly impossible.”

“What we don’t want to do is put schools in a situation where they almost certainly know they’re not going to make it, and so you kind of dismiss the whole thing,” Kerby said. So state officials and stakeholders have been focusing on instead increasing the proficiency percentages in each sub-group by 3 percentage points each year. That means the 6.9 percent proficiency number would rise to 27 percent over six years, Kerby said, which schools “would feel is an achievable goal.”

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said the goals appear to be “very ambitious across the board, specifically for English language learners and special-ed populations.” Robb told her that’s why the state is now looking to revise that. “We’re going to be doing a lot of work at the department over the next couple of weeks to model that out and see what that looks like, because that’s very valid feedback,” he said.

Robb said the idea of “closing achievement gaps” among different groups is one that comes up often in the federal ESSA law. “When we submit our plan to the U.S. Department of Education … they will be looking at how we plan on closing achievement gaps.”

Another point Robb stressed is that rather than a one- to five-star rating for school performance, the new plan focuses on a more comprehensive report card that lets people draw their own conclusions from the school’s data. That change comes because of input that the earlier star ratings were so generalized that they sometimes wrongly suggested a school was high- or low-performing, when a closer look revealed that it wasn’t. The new school report card would report on achievement and growth in indicator areas including math, English and reading, graduation rates and more.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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