Education

Ninth-graders will take the Idaho achievement test this year

Get ready, ninth-graders. You have been added to the list of students who must take the new Common Core exam.

Don’t blame your teachers or school administrators. Many of them dislike the requirement. They say adding ninth-graders increases the burden that districts face administering the exams in other grades. They say the test eats up computer resources and instructional time and gives them little useful information to help improve instruction.

The No Child Left Behind law required states to administer statewide achievement exams in grades three through eight and once in high school. Idaho gave the new Common Core test to high school sophomores as their achievement exam last spring. Common Core state standards list what students should know in math and English language arts before they graduate, and versions of the standards have been adopted by most states, including Idaho.

A 10th grade exam still will be required, since the Idaho State Board of Education has long required the sophomores to take one — and they must pass it to graduate. Students who fail have two additional years to prove their proficiency.

Adding ninth-graders is an unintended consequence of the Legislature’s rejection of a proposed state rule. Here’s what happened:

Before Common Core, the state administered the Idaho Standards Achievement Test in third through 10th grades. The ninth-grade test was regarded as preparation to help students acclimate to the one in 10th grade.

As the state began its transition to Common Core, it planned to require them in the 10th and 11th grades, so state officials waived ninth-grade testing for the exam’s field test in the 2013-14 school year and for the first exam to be scored in 2014-15.

But when the state board took the plan to the Legislature this year, lawmakers rejected it, in part because students had not taken the exam yet and some lawmakers did not know whether they would need an additional year to pass. When the new rule was rejected, the old rule requiring exams in ninth and 10th grades remained in effect.

The Boise School District is so unhappy with the testing situation that it is proposing a resolution to the Idaho School Boards Association. The resolution calls for eliminating the requirement that students pass a graduation test before getting a diploma, restricting Common Core tests to those required by the federal government, and using those tests to provide more detailed feedback to educators on student performance. The resolution directs the association to work with the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education and the Legislature to make the changes.

“Over one million hours of instructional time at grades 3-10 will be lost each year in the state of Idaho just for the (testing),” the resolution says. It says that’s more than twice the time required for the old ISATs.

Sherri Ybarra, state superintendent of public instruction and a member of the state board, supports the minimum testing required, said Jeff Church, department spokesman.

Not everyone opposes ninth-grade testing. Jackie Thomason, chief academic officer in the West Ada School District, said the test will give the district helpful information.

But for some superintendents, the ninth-grade test exacerbates their exasperation with Common Core testing.

“It’s a very expensive, politically motivated, time-consuming test that doesn’t inform instruction,” said Geoff Thomas, superintendent of the Madison School District in Rexburg. “Now they want to send it to the ninth grade.”

The Boise resolution cites a recent PDK/Gallup poll in which 64 percent of respondents nationwide say there is too much emphasis on testing.

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