As Blaine County students hunker down this month to take Idaho Standard Achievement Tests, district Superintendent Lonnie Barber is urging the board of trustees to not be overly concerned about test results.
"It should not be the North Star for our school district," Barber said at Tuesday's school board meeting. "Our goals are loftier than just high achievement on those tests. We want to educate the whole child."
The school board seemed agreeable to Barber's advice.
"I don't see anywhere on the ISAT data where they address choir, sports, community service or many of the other programs that revolve around the whole child," said board Chair Steve Guthrie.
The tests are required statewide by the Idaho State Department of Education as a way of measuring academic achievement and Adequate Yearly Progress as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Students in grades three through 10 are tested annually on reading, mathematics and language-use skills. Students in grades five, seven and 10 are also give annual science achievement tests.
ISAT testing is being done this month at all eight schools in the Blaine County School District.
Barber's cautionary note to the school board comes at a time when Blaine County students are generally performing well on ISAT.
"We are in great shape and we should not make that test as stressful as it is for our students or our teachers, because our students will perform," Barber said.
Barber has compiled data during the past few years using ISAT results provided by the Idaho State Department of Education, comparing Blaine County student achievement with those of the 31 largest school districts in Idaho. The data show that Blaine County students continue to score either first or near the top in most categories of ISAT assessment.
However, that holds true only if "limited English-proficiency," typically referred to as LEP, student test results are subtracted from the equations.
LEP students typically score lower on achievement tests, a tendency that lowers overall averages on ISAT scores. Since Blaine County has one of the highest LEP student ratios in the state, Barber said, a fair comparison of student achievement is to not consider LEP scores in comparisons with other districts.
For example, at Tuesday's board meeting, Barber discussed Blaine County sixth-grade 2011 ISAT scores compared to those of other large school districts in the state, with LEP results not taken into account.
In reading, 99.7 percent of Blaine County's non-LEP students scored proficient, a score leading the top 31 school districts in that category.
Blaine County non-LEP sixth-graders also scored first in mathematics with a 98.4 percent proficiency rating and first in language use with a proficiency of 94.1 percent.
Barber's calculations note that 24.2 percent of Blaine County sixth-graders were considered LEP in 2011. The compares to a state average of 6.5 percent. The Blackfoot School District had the second highest LEP sixth-grade student population at 20.7 percent.
Barber presented similar results for non-LEP seventh- and eighth-grade students. ISAT results from 2011 show the Blaine County students either leading or near the top in all categories.
Nonetheless, Barber downplayed the results.
"It shouldn't be our goal to be No. 1 in every one of those categories," Barber said. "If we are No. 1, that's reflective of a great education. If we're second or third, so what, because they're getting so much more in their education than what is reflected here."
'The whole child'
"Educating the whole child" and "21st-century learning" are basically synonymous terms that have become the mantras of the Blaine County School District during the past few years.
Barber said some school districts in Idaho focus primarily on achievement test results, but in Blaine County, educators take a broader view.
"We are trying to do something in Blaine County that few school districts are taking on," he said. "We're trying to institutionalize 21st-century learning to give our students more real-life learning."
The school district has implemented numerous programs in recent years that illustrate Barber's point.
The International Baccalaureate program, often referred to as IB, was started a few years ago at Wood River High School and Wood River Middle School to help students learn to be competitive in what has become a global market.
The district is now in its 11th year of Dual Immersion, a program designed to help English-speaking students become proficient in Spanish and Spanish-speaking students become proficient in English.
The district is currently putting together plans to expand its world languages program. Technical education programs are now offered in architectural and mechanical design, business and finance, and many other subjects. Numerous extracurricular activities are offered in sports and performing arts.
"I appreciate having this discussion," Trustee Kathryn Graves said at the conclusion of Barber's presentation. "I do feel if we continue on our project-based learning, on Dual Immersion and on IB, that test results will follow."
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org