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Common Core: What parents will – and won’t – learn from Idaho’s new test results

Idaho’s first round of results from the state’s new achievement exam could be headed to parents in the next few weeks.

Parents will learn whether their students are meeting the Idaho Core Standards for their grade level, and whether they are facing some difficulty understanding concepts in math and language arts, the two areas that are part of Idaho’s new statewide assessment.

But don’t expect to be able to compare results to the standards, or see which specific concepts students are struggling with.

For parents, it will be a little like a mechanic listening to your car’s engine and telling you the motor isn’t running right, but not indicating whether it needs a tuneup or a new water pump.

“It is the logical nature that if you get a report home that says that your kid is doing well, you want to know what they are doing well in,” said Don Coberly, Boise School District superintendent. “If they are struggling, you want to know what they are struggling with.”

Test results from Idaho Core Standards, Idaho’s version of Common Core State Standards adopted in most states, already are at least three weeks late because of problems getting the data. State officials say they have all but a handful of scores in hand. But Boise School District is missing 1,000 scores. Once the final scores are received, Boise and West Ada expect to mail them out of parents.

The test, called the Idaho Standards Achievement Test by Smarter Balanced, is a more difficult exam than the old ISAT, which measured student ability to regurgitate information poured into their heads by teachers.

Idaho’s new ISAT demands critical thinking and demonstrated ability to write and to work math problems.

Results of the first ISAT by Smarter Balanced are expected to yield a lower percentage of students meeting standards than the older, easier ISAT exam students in grades three through eight and 10th grade took for about eight years.

About 70 percent of the new ISAT deals with critical-thinking questions and 30 percent with basic skills. In the old ISAT, that was nearly reversed.

CHANGES TO THE TEST

Before parents get their first results, school districts are calling for changes that could help both families and schools make more sense of the data they’ll be getting.

In future years, Coberly wants districts to get more detailed information on test results — possibly a question-by-question analysis of how students performed — to help improve instruction. That would likely require the test to be made public each year and a new one drafted for the next year, such as is done with the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test.

On the new report, students will get a single score for math and another one for language arts.

Some administrators think that should be different. Jackie Thomason, West Ada School District director of assessment and accountability, and Jodie Mills, Caldwell School District acting superintendent, said scores should be broken up into how well students perform on basic skills such as adding, and a second score on how they applied that knowledge. It would show parents “that your student can write a paragraph,” Thomason said.

The test results parents will receive this week are a work in progress, said Angela Hemingway, Department of Education director of assessment and accountability. The changes Coberly, Thomason and Mills want for more detailed analysis of questions and for scores that look at both basic skills and critical thinking are under discussion, Hemingway said. Idaho also is planning to bring in parents for feedback on the form, to see whether it can be made parent-friendly.

The testing reports, however, are part of a multistate consortium. Idaho would be able to tweak its own form in some instances, but changes might have to be consortium-wide in others.

LOTS OF QUESTIONS

Hemingway also defended the parent report. She likened it to a final exam, in which students are tested on a variety of content from over a year’s worth of learning and then get a single grade. “When you walk out of the class, you are done,” she said.

Once parents start seeing the results, districts expect to field many questions. Nampa School District will send a letter to parents with results explaining that the data is a baseline for calculating growth in future years. They also will tell parents not to be alarmed if scores appear low in this new, more challenging test.

Come fall, Nampa schools will incorporate discussion about the exam into back-to-school nights or even set aside specific nights to answer families’ questions about what the test results mean, said Nicole MacTavish, assistant superintendent.

If she were a parent getting the report about to come to families, MacTavish said, “I’d have lots of questions.”

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