State Board of Education vs. Parents & Teachers


At a time when parents and grandparents across the county are beginning to wake up to the harsh realities of high stakes testing in our public schools (and the personalized data capture that occurs continuously throughout the interactive computer process), our Idaho SBOE has decided to double down with their testing plans into the foreseeable future for Idaho students. They seek to codify the federally financed test developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) into Idaho graduation requirements through the year 2020 under the familiar ISAT name. Current rules already carry it through 2016.

The SBOE proposed rules to accomplish this are in review by the legislature right now. The rules review process is always the first official order of business in the legislative session and generally takes two to three weeks to complete. Legislators cannot modify a proposed rule or introduce a new one. The assigned committees can only vote up or down on each rule. All rules that survive committee review are bundled together into one big omnibus bill and voted on as a package deal in both bodies of the legislature. We must act quickly if we want to influence the outcome of a proposed rule. That is the purpose of this article.

Idahoans for Local Education would like you to consider contacting the House and Senate education committees now and ask them to reject the SBOE proposed rule changes for Docket No. 08-0203-1401 that entrench these high stakes tests even further. In fact, we’d also like you to consider including a request to reject the SBAC designed test altogether, effective immediately, and ask that Idaho begin taking measures to exit the consortium altogether. We should be able to revert to the previous ISAT test pretty easily, until a more permanent solution can be found. You can use hedu@house.idaho.gov and sedu@senate.idaho.gov .

There is absolutely no doubt that the Idaho SBOE and the Idaho Department of Education are well aware of the backlash that schools are already getting from parents across Idaho with regard to the SBAC/ISAT test. The number of parents wanting to opt their kids out of this end of year summative assessment is on the rise and state staff know that the national momentum continues to build against this nationally developed test. Especially among those states who were first in line to implement the Common Core standards and related tests, such as New York and Kentucky. Idaho parents are hearing the horror stories coming from those “early” states and they are determined to protect their own children from similar experiences here.

Last spring, the state and the districts backed down from fighting parental opt outs here at home, because they knew they couldn’t easily defend the enforcement of a field test. The simple fact that no scores would be returned from the field test was reason enough to back off because it would prevent the state from upholding their own obligations under rule. But that was last year. This spring, the test will matter and parents can expect a bigger battle if they intend to refuse the test.

Under both current and proposed rules, students could be denied graduation regardless of their GPA, regardless of their body of work, regardless of their performance on any others of the vast array of tests they will take, simply because they and their parents refused this excessive and unbeneficial test. Reasonable people know that this is inherently wrong. The only salvation from this unrelenting power is that each district is required to have a state approved alternative path to graduation to accommodate students who do not have a proficient score on the test. Until the system is changed, this may be the only option available to parents who understand the problem with the SBAC/ISAT test and the data collection that goes with it.

According to many teachers, this is a test that does nothing to inform or improve classroom instruction for your child. Testing companies and state staff know that these tests are more focused on measuring teachers, schools and districts than they are in measuring your child’s progress. Just listen to them in their own words in this short video… http://youtu.be/kZx7IRaAk0Y .

Not only does this 7-8 hour test not directly benefit our children, it doubles the amount of time required for administering the test, from 4 weeks to at least 6 or 8 weeks. That’s nearly 2 months out of a 9 month school year (20% of the year!) when computer labs and classroom instruction will be continuously disrupted for this one test, and that doesn’t include all of the related test prep time, or any other tests!

Another disturbing fact about the SBAC/ISAT test is that no one is allowed to know or see what is on the test. Not even after the fact. Not teachers, parents, principals or board members, absolutely no one… except the nameless, faceless, unaccountable test developers with SBAC.  In fact, any test proctor (teacher or otherwise) is instructed to position themselves in the classroom in such a way that they cannot see any student screens. The content of the test is a closely guarded secret. Unusually so, which causes unusual suspicions to creep in among parents and teachers. It’s very unsettling to think that there is absolutely no one between your child and the computer delivered content. The recent Sensitivity and Bias Review exercise carried out by the State Dept of Ed must be a ruse to appease parents. You cannot convince us that Idaho’s concerns about appropriate content could successfully sway anything in the uniform test that is administered to students in 22 other states. Idaho doesn’t have that much sway at SBAC, nor do we get to design our very own test.

One last item of concern about the newly designed SBAC tests is the cost associated with scoring them. Tom Luna explained last year that roughly 40% of the new test would continue to be a multiple choice, with the remaining 60% being comprised of open-ended performance based items that require some form of written response from the student. He said that in order to be fair, these performance based items will be hand scored by two teachers, and if those two teachers cannot agree on a score, then a third teacher would be called in to settle the score. So 60% of a much longer test will now require manual scoring, but the cost of the scoring will be ‘about the same’ as the previously computer scored tests. Right… who believes that? The eventual cost to Idaho taxpayers is still a big unknown at this point (but SBAC federal $$ has run out).

The problems with the SBOE power play don’t end with the test or extended graduation requirements. They are tightening the screws on teachers too. As you heard in the video link above, the main purpose of the SBAC/ISAT test is to measure accountability, not necessarily student achievement. The effectiveness of teachers, schools and districts will be measured by the results of these specific student tests… despite the fact that there are many factors beyond their control. Factors that will change with each new group of students they teach every year.

As readers of this newsletter, you may recall seeing a previous article from Idahoans for Local Education about Tiered Licensure, which included a warning about the potential risk to teacher certification that comes with this SBAC/ISAT testing for accountability purposes under the Common Core reform program. The SBOE wants to tie a teacher’s professional license to their employment evaluation. No other profession in the world does this. We understand that teachers are suing in some states with tiered licensure.

The certification and professional license that most teachers have worked very hard for are at risk of being overturned or reduced if their students don’t do well on these tests. It’s a big part of what’s at stake in a high stakes test. As parents, we expect our teachers to feel an obligation to advocate for our children, even when that obligation conflicts with the interests of their employer. The tiered licensure proposal as contained in the SBOE proposed rules will undermine that commitment.

We hope you will consider letting the education committees know that you oppose this heavy-handed means of controlling the teachers by asking them to reject the SBOE proposed rules on Docket No. 08-0202-1401.