Friday, April 4, 2014

State suspends ‘star’ school ratings for 2014

New assessment testing under way at Blaine County schools

Express Staff Writer

    With the advent this year of a new assessment method for testing student achievement, there won’t be 2014 school “star ratings,” a system used by the Idaho State Department of Education to evaluate school performance.
    “They’ll keep the same ratings as last year,” Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the State Department of Education, said Wednesday. “If they were a two-star school, they’ll stay a two-star school. If they were a four-star school, they’ll still be a four-star school.
    “If you’re a one- or two-star school, you’re not very happy, but if you’re a four- or five-star school, you’re probably very happy with it,” McGrath said.
    The reason for no new ratings this year is because Idaho Standard Achievement Tests, typically referred to as ISAT, a major factor in determining star ratings, won’t be administered in math and English, either this year or in the future. Instead, the state has adopted the new Smarter Balanced Assessment system, which tests students to standards as established by what is referred to as “Common Core.”
    McGrath noted that ISAT will still be used this year for science testing in grades 5-7 and 10.
    Common Core, adopted in Idaho as “Idaho Core Standards,” is a national endeavor to standardize educational goals and to increase what is described as “rigor” in in English language arts and mathematics. Common Core methodology is intended to raise learning standards and provide students with more of a conceptual understanding of English and math.
    Idaho Common Core Standards will become the official state school and student performance assessment at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.
    Even though the new Smarter Balanced Assessment system is being used for testing students this year, the results won’t count against a school or a student. Instead, the State Department of Education has mandated that the new tests be administered as a “field test.”
    According to the department, the new tests are a “dress rehearsal that helps the state measure the validity and reliability of test questions. It also gives schools the opportunity to test their logistics in administering the new assessment and gives every student the opportunity to experience the new assessment.”
    The tests are being administered in school districts and charter schools statewide to students in grades 3-8 and 11.
    The tests were started this week in the Blaine County School District.
    “All of the schools have different schedules to accommodate the various grades, but the tests are under way,” district Communications Director Heather Crocker said Thursday.
    “We know these tests are very different from the ISATs the state has mandated in the past,” Crocker said. “The new ISAT, or SBAC, allows for further demonstration of depth of knowledge and critical thinking.”
    The Blaine County School District has been gearing up to implement Common Core standards in English and math for the past several years.
    McGrath said that the state’s star rating system will be put back in place using the results from the new Smarter Balanced Assessment system in 2015.
    Under the department’s five-star system, schools that score four or better are deemed to be performing well. Anything less than that means that there is room for improvement.
    Last year, Wood River High School and Silver Creek High School, the district’s alternative high school, both received five stars.
    Four stars were awarded to Carey School and Wood River Middle School. Three stars went to Bellevue, Hailey and Hemingway elementary schools, while Woodside Elementary School received only two stars.

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