Idaho plan to cut achievement gap deemed too ambitious

Published: Jun. 27, 2017 at 4:51 PM MDT
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The latest plan to close Idaho's student achievement gap needs tweaking after being told the goal was too ambitious and unrealistic, state education officials said.

Representatives with the Idaho Department of Education told House and Senate education committee members on Tuesday that they are revising the state's draft school accountability plan to make it more feasible for public schools to meet the newest benchmarks.

"It was decided that we had erred too high on the ambitious side and so we are going to revise the methodology," said Duncan Robb, chief policy adviser to state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra.

All states are required to submit plans in September under the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will decide whether to accept or reject the plans. She has said her goal is state and local flexibility in education and indicated that she might use the process to advance school choice.

Robb said the department agreed to make changes to the draft plan after meeting with various education groups and lawmakers on Monday.

Currently, the draft plan seeks to slash the number of students who aren't 100 proficient in reading and math by half over the next six years.

In Idaho, 53 percent of all students were proficient in reading and language arts as of 2016. The plan would set a new goal of moving that baseline to more than 76 percent proficient by 2022.

However, for certain student sub-groups, the goal became much more challenging. For example, just 15 percent of students with disabilities in 2016 were proficient in reading and language arts, as well as in mathematics. The plan would want to see that same group move up to roughly 58 percent proficiency in both categories by 2022.

For English learners, the current baseline in mathematics and reading and language arts hovers around 7 percent. The new goal would bump it up to 53.5 percent by 2022.

Republican state Rep. Ryan Kerby, of New Plymouth, described those goals as 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.

Robb said the department is now considering increasing the proficiency percentages in each sub-group by 3 percentages each year.

With the stakes so high, the education department has received increased scrutiny over its drafting process. Earlier this month, leaders from Idaho's largest teachers union and the Idaho School Boards Association sent a letter to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter that said they felt dismayed they had been excluded from developing the accountability plan. They stopped short of threatening a lawsuit, which has become a threat in other states.