Another member of the Senate Education Committee is concerned about the Gem State’s involvement in the national Common Core academic standards agenda. This time the focus is specifically on the testing component of the program.
“I remain very supportive of the Idaho Core standards,” said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise. “But I have serious concerns about the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).
The Common Core academic standards initiative (re-branded in the Gem State as “Idaho Core” in July of 2013 by supportive activists) sets grade level academic standards for public schools students in the states that have signed on to the agenda, but also includes those students in a nationwide “Smarter Balanced” testing system.
Among the 50 states, Texas, Virginia, Nebraska and Alaska refused to participate in the agenda. Among the other 46 that did agree to participate, Indiana, Massachusetts, Louisiana and Pennsylvania have all chosen to back out of the testing component of the initiative, or to delay implementation of both of Common Core’s key components for a period of time pending further consideration.
Earlier this week, Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, announced in a press release that he wants Idaho to abandon the testing component of Common Core, and noted eight different reasons why he believes the program is a problem. Noting that the SBAC is what he thinks of as a form of “extreme testing,” he concluded that the tests simply take too much time to administer. The SBAC test can last up to seven hours.
“I do not share all of Sen. Thayn's concerns,” Ward-Engelking told Idaho Reporter.Com, “but the length of the testing is a very real concern to me. It is an awfully long period of time to occupy the computer systems in a school.”
Ward-Engelking’s point apparently resonates with some local school district officials.
“I think she (Ward-Engelking) makes a very valid point,” said Erica Kemery, superintendent of the South Lemhi School District in Leadore. “The length of time that the Smarter Balanced test takes is approximately double the length of time of the ISAT test, so, yes, that results in all that much more time taken up in our computer lab. We find that to be very problematic.”
Laura Rumpler, spokesperson for Coeur d’Alene public schools, raises concerns similar to those of Kemery. “The Smarter Balanced testing process will be a challenge for our system, mostly in scheduling and computer lab availability, but we have been planning this past year to manage the change. We are increasing the number of mobile computing labs we have available across our district and are working together to map out the testing times at each school so our system can successfully handle the administration of the Smarter Balanced test.”
Rumpler added that there is no requirement that the test be administered in a single day. “While it is anticipated the entire test process may take between seven to eight hours, school districts have the ability to break up the test into smaller testing times; we are choosing to do this. We do not intend to test children in one long sit-down event.”
Beth Pendergrass, director of human resources and community relations for the Twin Falls School District, also has testing concerns.
"Our greatest concern is the amount of time that it will take students to take the test,” said Pendergrass. “We have limited computer lab space and it's an issue that we are addressing with our school principals. Ultimately, we aren't sure how this is going to work with our students. We're not sure how they will do spending so much time on a test and we are also concerned that accommodating the test will result in a loss of classroom instructional time."
Pendergrass added, however, that "we like the idea that we've been given a pilot year. This allows teachers and students to become familiar with the testing process. We also like the idea that our students' achievement will be compared to that of students from around the country. It would be nice if we had feedback on our students' performance in the first year, but we understand why we won't."
Ward-Engelking also said that the value of the test results may be questionable. “The Smarter Balanced test will not provide an assessment of individual students, at least not in the first year. It will provide a benchmark, but it will not provide individual assessments. If we want assessments of individual students, then we need to use another assessment test, and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (in Idaho known as the ISAT) can do that.”
On this point, Thayn sounds a similar note to Ward-Engelking. “The SBAC test cannot provide immediate feedback to classroom teachers.”
Rumpler said that she and her associates understand why the SBAC won’t provide student assessments right away, but states that “we plan to rely on other tools such as End of Course Assessments to constantly evaluate how we are doing.”
Members of the Idaho Senate and House education committees are holding an open forum event to discuss the Common Core agenda, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, from 3-5 p.m. in
the Lincoln Auditorium of the state Senate West Wing, in the state Capitol building. Legislators will not address public questions spontaneously, however, and are requiring that questions be submitted in advance.
Questions can be submitted to the House Education secretary via email at: [email protected]
Ground mail can be sent to: House Education Secretary, EW49, Routing Code 38, State Capitol, Boise, ID 83720-0038
Legislators are requiring that all questions must be submitted by Friday, Jan. 17, at 5 p.m. in order to be considered.