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For the week of Jan. 19 through Jan. 25, 2000

Survey blasts Idaho schools

Blaine County students score well on proficiency tests


By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer

A major survey of quality in education slammed Idaho schools last week, ranking them worst in the nation in the category of "Improving Teacher Quality." In other areas, the survey ranked Idaho average for the academic standards state educators have set for students.

Separately, in a national survey released the following day, Idaho students showed good scores in a standardized test of academic skills.

For their part, Blaine County students scored higher than the state average in the above test.

Education Week magazine released the survey last Wednesday as part of its fourth annual Quality Counts report, which focuses much of its attention on the question: What are states doing to attract, screen and keep good teachers?

With the nation needing to hire some 2 million teachers in the next decade, the report says, "the push is on to make sure that the people who take those jobs are qualified to teach to the higher academic standards now expected of students."

Idaho has a difficult time recruiting and retaining well-qualified teachers, the report says, because it is a sparsely settled state that imports almost half its teaching force, with 10 percent of that force leaving each year.

The report includes several magazine-style articles and a "report card" for each state with grades in five education-related categories.

For failing to set any teacher assessment standards, for allowing teachers to conduct classes for which they have not been trained, for failing to provide ongoing professional support and for having lax teacher-education rules, the survey gave Idaho an "F" in the category of "Improving Teacher Quality."

No state in the country received a grade higher than "B" in that category.

In the category of "Standards and Accountability," however, Idaho improved its grade from an "F" last year, to a "C" this year, as the result of the school board recently approving high school exiting standards, which require students to meet a certain level of academic proficiency before advancing.

In the "Resources" category, based on per-pupil expenditure, the percentage of public funds that goes to instruction and the equity of spending per student, Idaho got a "C."

Idaho did not supply the survey with any information in two of the report-card categories—"School Climate" and "Student Achievement"—and therefore, did not receive grades in those areas.

The state’s scores for the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and Tests of Achievement and Proficiency, released Thursday, show that Idaho students’ basic knowledge of key academic subjects compares favorably to students across the country.

The closely watched ITBS/TAP is a multiple-choice test for students in grades three through 11. It tests knowledge in reading, language, mathematics, social studies, science and sources of information (map and diagram reading and use of reference materials).

The test questions reflect general content areas and skills that most students are expected to know.

Because the test sorts students along a bell-shaped curve, most will score near the average, which is 50 percent. A score of 50 percent means students are keeping up with their peers nationwide.

The majority of Idaho students took the ITBS/TAP in October, about a month into the academic year.

Scores were expected to slip this year due to a periodic readjusting process in the grading scale called "renorming," which raises the bar of expectation nationally. Renorming is necessary to keep the average score around 50 percent, because over time, students tend to do better and better on the test.

Nevertheless, Idaho students in all grades scored from 50 to 57 percent in all subject areas of the ITBS/TAP, with the exception of fifth graders, who scored from 48 to 52 percent.

In Blaine County, students did even better with a low score of 52 and a high of 74. Most grades scored in the high 50s to mid 60s.

In light of those scores, Blaine County School District Superintendent Jim Lewis is irritated by the Quality Counts survey, which he believes casts Idaho’s teachers in an unfair light because it looks mostly at the state’s recruiting process, not teacher performance.

"I just get tired of that kind of crap," Lewis said of the survey, during a call from the district office in Hailey Friday. If the Idaho school system is so bad, he said, "why are we turning out so many leaders and graduates?"

Lewis did acknowledge, however, that there are 60 to 70 uncertified teachers’ aides who currently work as teachers in the school district, a situation that could be remedied by the district’s "Strategic Vision Facility Committee" plan.

As part of that plan, currently in the brainstorming phase, the district would build a new high school and use space in the current Wood River High School as a College of Southern Idaho extension. This would offer teachers a way to finish their teaching degrees.

Marilyn Howard, Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction, in a written response to Idaho’s failing grade for improving teacher quality, said, "Idaho actually deserves a grade of ‘incomplete’ because the state Board of Education is in the first year of a two-year process to examine the preparation of teachers and ways to enhance the profession through the Maximizing Opportunities for Students & Teachers (MOST) committee."

The MOST committee, made up of teachers, parents, lawmakers, business leaders and higher education representatives, has been working recently to restructure the way teachers are educated, licensed and motivated.

Howard pointed out what she believes to be the most interesting piece of data from the Education Week survey.

There is a "startling gap," she said, between teacher salaries and the salaries of other similarly educated professionals.

According to the survey, a three percent pay increase, passed by the legislature last year, raised the base starting salary of teachers to $20,915, almost $12,000 less than what beginning teachers could make in other fields in Idaho.

"As we look at improving the profession, salary issues will be a key piece, but not the only piece," Howard said. "Our goal is to recruit well-qualified teachers. To do that we have to provide a competitive wage that allows educators to support a family."

The Quality Counts survey was produced with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The entire Quality Counts report is available at www.edweek.com.

Idaho ITBS/TAP scores are available at www.sde.state.id.us/instruct/SchoolAccount/StateTesting.htm.

 

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