Stan Olson, the Democrat running for state superintendent, said Tuesday that schools around the state are improving, but that progress has nothing to do with the man in the position, Republican Tom Luna, who will face off with Olson at the polls in November. The charge by Olson comes on the heels of a Monday announcement by the Idaho State Department of Education that more schools are meeting rigorous guidelines of academic progress set forth by the state. Olson, a former superintendent of the Boise School District himself, said that all progress made in academics is thanks to teachers, not Luna or his staff.
“Any school gains in Adequate Yearly Progress over the last four years have come as a result of the hard work of Idaho’s teachers, principals, and students, NOT from the efforts of the current State Superintendent. If anything, Mr. Luna has negatively impacted school improvement efforts by failing to support local school districts and by not having a real plan in place to help schools sustain improvement initiatives,” said Olson, in an e-mail news release.
Due to provisions in President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education plan, state superintendents are required to report on the progress of schools in their respective states each August. The annual report is referred to as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The report is based on the results of the eighth-grade Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) and 41 areas of achievement of each school. Points of achievement, or target areas, help administrators determine progress of different groups and classes of people, including students with limited proficiency in the English language, as well as those who are economically disadvantaged. According to Luna, more than 60 percent of all Idaho schools met AYP standards, including some for the first time.
Here are the requirements to meet AYP standards, as outlined by the department:
The student achievement goals were increased in the 2009-2010 school year. To make AYP this year, 85.6 percent of students in a school had to reach grade-level proficiency in reading, compared to 78 percent last year. In math, 83 percent of students in a school had to reach grade-level proficiency this year, compared to 70 percent last year.
Olson chided Luna for making the AYP and test scores political in nature. He said that educators across the nation view the AYP as a "faulty premise" to use to determine progress of schools. He also said that to improve scores in the long run, there must be more guidance for students. "Greater emphasis needs to be placed on helping all Idaho school children meet rigorous, nationally recognized standards through consistent support and guidance," said Olson. "That support and guidance is not in place, and has been lacking over the last four years.
This isn't the first time Olson has called on elements surrounding education in Idaho to take a decidedly quieter political tone. In June, at the Democratic state convention, Olson told IdahoReporter.com that once he is elected, he will work with the state Legislature to depoliticize the race for state superintendent.