In 2007, before any of the three education reform bills were approved by the 2011 Idaho Legislature, lawmakers allocated funds for the Department of Education to provide the 2013 graduation class with the SAT test or some other standardized test as a requirement for all juniors to graduate from high school.
Academically, the results showed that one out of every four met college and career-ready requirements. The average score for Idaho high school juniors was 448 in critical reading, 454 in mathematics and 447 in writing. A score of 500 in each subject area has shown a student will be successful in postsecondary education after high school, according to the College Board.
According to the College Board, the Idaho results were similar to those found in Maine and Delaware, which also administered the test to all high school juniors.
The state budgeted $963,500 for the test under the contract it negotiated with the College Board, which administers the SAT. The nearly four-hour test is now called the SAT, not the Scholastic Aptitude Test or Scholastic Assessment Test as in past years.
According to numbers released by the department on Monday, nearly 17,000 high school juniors took the test. The previous year, when it wasn’t a requirement, just 2,829 students took the SAT.
Juniors can opt not to take the SAT, but are required to take something similar to graduate, such as the ACT (formerly known as the American College Testing) test, but that expense must be borne by the individual, not the state.
The funds are allocated annually for the testing program, according to Melissa McGrath, communications director for the state education department. “The Legislature appropriates the funding annually for college entrance exams. We have signed a contract with the College Board annually.”
But what about those with no aspirations of going to college? What if someone is going to take over the family farm, or start his or her own business painting houses? Or, a myriad of other options?
McGrath said that testing is important for students, regardless of their plans for post-secondary education. “We know that about 60 percent of the jobs now, and even more in the future, will require some form of postsecondary education,” she said. “We know that if students are going to be successful in life after high school, in the 21st century, they’re going to need some education after high school. So, it’s our (the state’s) responsibility to make sure that students graduate from high school prepared for that.”
With funds being allocated annually, and the economic climate still being a challenge, should the state be spending the money for this program?
Rep. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, who is now a candidate for the state Senate, has emerged in the last few years in the Legislature as a creative mind in the area of education, always offering new and different ways to educate Idahoans. He was around in 2007 when the plan was approved and says he supports the idea. “The idea is so they (high school students) can get an idea as to what their potential is. Some don’t think they can do that. It’s not a real big issue to me. The intent I think is good.”
Unfortunately for this first year, it is difficult to compare the impact of the requirement as it relates to results nationwide. According to the state education department, “The Idaho SAT data measures the results of nearly all high school juniors taking the SAT paid for by the state. The national results for the SAT measure the results of a cohort of students (sophomores, juniors and seniors) graduating in a certain year who selected to take the SAT, not paid for by the state. Therefore, these data points cannot be directly compared.”
With the current way the numbers are released, Idaho must compare numbers against itself to see how students are doing in the years to come, McGrath said.
ACT test results for Idaho show similar data to the SAT for meeting college benchmarks, with 26 percent of those who took the test meeting all four ACT college marks.