Sunday, July 30, 2017


Researchers from Portland State University Center for Public Service contacted District officials last year and asked us to participate in a study of  Total Employer Cost of Compensation (TECC). We were curious about how Boise's salaries and benefits stacked up against other northwest districts, and agreed to participate. The participating districts were Seattle and Vancouver in Washington , Portland, Salem - Keizer, Lake Oswego, Beaverton, and Hillsboro in Oregon, and Boise. The Center for Public Service used the study to test their methodology in calculating total staffing costs in districts, using data from the 2015-16 school year.

We have summarized a few of the study's findings in several charts. Let's have a look at what Portland State's team found about salaries and Total Cost of Compensation.

Annual Salaries

The Portland State staff did not look at average salaries among teachers in each district; instead, they examined salaries for placement at certain points along the salary schedule in each district. We've included their data for six of the eight districts, leaving out Hillsboro and Lake Oswego.

Here's what the researchers found about first year placement in each of the districts - that's placement for a new teacher with only a Bachelor's degree in 2015-16.

Seattle's entry level placement was by far the highest among the districts included herein. Otherwise, Portland, Salem and Beaverton were in the high 30k range, and Boise and Vancouver in the mid 30's.

It's important to note here that, according to Sperling and other estimates of cost of living differences, Boise has the lowest cost of any of the cities included in the study. In Sperling's analysis, the other areas are this much more expensive than Boise: Salem +5%, Vancouver +11%, Beaverton +29%, Portland +37%, and Seattle +72%. We also understand that many teachers in these districts (and in Boise) may not live in the district in which they teach. Cost of housing is the most differentiated cost among the cities; for example, the cost of housing in Seattle is 189% higher than that of Boise, on average.

At the Master's degree level with 10 years experience, the gap widened between Boise and Vancouver and the other districts in the study. For example, while Boise's entry level salary was 7% lower than that of Portland, at this mid-career level it was 20% lower.

For the MA Plus and 30 years category, the Portland State researchers used the highest salary on the schedule, exclusive of any PhD category the district might have included on its schedule.

The Portland State researchers noted: "Between the 10th and 30th years of service, teachers who earn additional graduate credits and reach the top step (short of a PhD) see comparatively similar rises in base salary. The two steepest differences – about 40% – between Mid-career and Latter-stage salary, based on the current salary schedules, are found in Seattle and Vancouver. The other five districts generally show about a 30% change in salary between these two milestones..." 

Total Cost of Compensation

In calculating Total Cost of Compensation (TECC), the researchers looked at a number of categories the most important of which were:

  • Base salaries
  • Employer Paid Health Insurance Costs
  • Retirement Related Costs Borne by the District
  • The Value of Paid Time Off
Here are the data presented in the study in terms of TECC for MA Pus 30 year employees by district:

So, for example, while Portland paid teacher salaries at the MA Plus level and 30 years of about 14% higher than Boise, the Total Cost of Compensation for this category in Portland was about 30% higher.

Why the dramatic difference? Health insurance and retirement costs are much higher for the Portland District. In 2015-16, Portland's cost for employee health insurance for MA Plus 30 year teachers was $16,385 per teacher, while for the Boise District it was $7,320. As for retirement, in Portland it was $15,921 while in Boise it was $11,946. In fact, Boise's costs for all categories for these veteran teachers were less than any other district in the study, except for Vancouver, where the base salary was slightly higher for Boise teachers (see page 11 of the study).

The most demographically similar district to Boise in the study was Vancouver, Washington which has about the same number of students, and similar poverty percentages among its student population. However, Vancouver has about 250 fewer teachers, and substantially higher class sizes than Boise.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Even though school's out and it's the middle of summer (and so hot!), there's still some interesting research on which we can report...

"Students' Test Scores tell us more about the Community they Live in than what they Know"

In Phys.Org, Andrew Tienken writes about the relationship between test scores and poverty, and cites studies indicating the strength of the relationship:

"We decided to see if we could predict standardized test scores based on demographic factors related to the community where a student lived. By looking at three to five community and family demographic variables from U.S. Census data, we have been able to accurately predict the percentages of students who score proficient or above on standardized test scores for grades three through 12. These predictions are made without looking at school district data factors such as school size, teacher experience or per pupil spending."

And, on the measures of year-to-year "growth" which will be used to judge schools in Idaho on the SBAC:

"Though some proponents of standardized assessment claim that scores can be used to measure improvement, we've found that there's simply too much noise. Changes in test scores from year to year can be attributed to normal growth over the school year, whether the student had a bad day or feels sick or tired, computer malfunctions, or other unrelated factors."

Since, as Tienken says, standardized tests are used for everything from grade-to grade promotion, high school graduation decisions, evaluation of teachers and administrators, and decisions about tenure, Tienken concludes:

"If these standardized test results can be predicted with a high level of accuracy by community and family factors, it would have major policy implications. In my opinion, it suggests we should jettison the entire policy foundation that uses such test results to make important decisions about school personnel and students. After all, these factors are outside the control of students and school personnel."

We've been railing against these measures, especially the SBAC and PARCC, and the obsession with testing students every year, for a while now. When the evidence tells us conclusively that they are just a reflection of poverty, shouldn't we consider something different?

And this leads us to one of  Tienken's final statements:

"Although some might not want to accept it, over time, assessments made by teachers are better indicators of student achievement than standardized tests. For example, high  GPA, which is based on classroom assessments, is a better predictor of student success in the first year of college than the SAT."

This article in The Atlantic provides a glimpse into the phenomenon of the startling decrease in the percentage of teens working summer jobs - down from 60% in 1978 to 35% last summer.  The author, Derek Thompson, writes:

"A better answer (than laziness) is that teenagers aren’t spending more time on the couch, but rather spending more time in the classroom. Education is to blame, rather than indolence. Teens are remaining in high school longer, going to college more often, and taking more summer classes."

Of course, the trend of going to college more often doesn't apply to Idaho high school grads, but the national evidence is interesting. Thompson provides plenty of charts and graphs to illustrate his points, and looks at several reasons for the decline in teen summer jobs.

Russ on Reading  is a popular blog written by Russ Walsh, a literacy expert and educator from  Pennsylvania. As he writes on his title page, his blog exists for the purposes of  "discussing sound literacy instruction, supporting teachers and defending public education"

In this post, Walsh examines two studies, one that argues for more academics in pre-school, and another that states that the purpose of pre-school is to "promote school readiness, preschools need to focus strategically on social-emotional development."

Walsh writes about the balance that must be achieved between structured play and academics (not dissimilar to the old phonics/sight vocabulary discussion in reading instruction) in the appropriate pre-school environment, and quotes a statement from the first study that gets to the heart of the issue:

"Indeed, as publicly funded pre-K expands, the division may be not between academics and play, but between programs with well-trained and well-paid teachers and those without."

Luckily, we have two of the most qualified, well-trained preschool teachers in the state in the Whitney and Hawthorne pre-k programs. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


In an Idaho Ed News article ("Idaho Charter Schools Underserve Minority and Poor Populations", by Devin Bodkin) last week, the Executive Director of Bluum, an organization devoted to promoting charter schools, had this quote:

“While charters aren’t as diverse as state averages, they are more diverse than the West Ada School district on average and are darn close to Boise district averages.” 

Comparing the state charter average for free and reduced lunch with that of the Boise District is, well, apples and oranges. The real question is whether the charters in the school district, two of which purport to have the same boundaries as the entire district, serve student populations similar to that of the District. 

In Boise's case there are 3 charters whose data we can analyze - Sage, ANSER, and the Village. 

ANSER and Sage have in their charter applications declared their boundaries to be the same as the Boise District. ANSER serves students in grades k-8, and Sage is a k-12 school. To be more than fair, we will use the k-12 averages in the Boise District for comparison for these two schools, and we will look at percentages of free/reduced students, special education (SpEd) students, and Limited English (LEP) students.

The Village has defined their boundaries as roughly east of Eagle Road, south of Fairview Avenue, west of Latah Street (though the boundary is a little further east nearer to the airport), and south to the Boise and West Ada boundary lines. 

The Boise elementary schools within the Village boundary  are Owyhee (59% free and reduced lunch), Jefferson (82%), Hillcrest (74%), Maple Grove (29%), Amity (28%), and Grace Jordan (68%). There are also a number of West Ada schools - Desert Sage (60%) , Lake Hazel (31%), Silver Sage (39%), and parts of Pepper Ridge. (22%). We calculated an aggregate percentage for these schools to compare with the Village totals.

Here are the comparative numbers and percentages:

As reported in the Idaho Ed News articles, charters around the state often have much different demographics than their host districts, especially when it comes to free/reduced lunch percentages and Limited English populations. This applies to the Boise District and its charter schools, as well.

In December, 2015, we provided a comparison between SBAC proficiency percentages at The Village and Sage Charter Schools and demographically comparable schools in the Boise District, showing that the two charter schools achieved no better (and sometimes were much worse) than the comparable schools.

Since charter schools across the state are most often demographically much different from the Districts in their areas of service, and the situation appears not to be changing, these are the most appropriate achievement comparisons. Anser does this comparison with comparable schools annually in their report to the Boise District Board of Trustees Perhaps other charters should follow their lead.

Monday, June 26, 2017


The Idaho Board of Education released statewide SAT results last week. Idaho has provided funding for several years for administration of the SAT to 11th graders on "SAT School Day", which occurs annually in April. Each Idaho student is required to take a "college readiness" exam as a prerequisite for graduation. Most students take the SAT on the "school day" administration date. Some students may have already taken an exam, and others prefer to take the ACT and so do not sit for the "school day" exam.

This makes it difficult to compare high school SAT results in a year-over-year fashion because differing percentages of the junior class take the exam. So, for example, 85% of juniors may take the SAT "school day" administration in one year, but in the next year only 75% may participate.

For the 2017 comparison, we included only high schools that met the following criteria:
  1. Over 80% of juniors participated in the "school day" exam (we used April enrollment figures from the State Department of Education to come up with a participation percentage).
  2. Over 70 students participated in the exam (even with this criterion, performance can vary widely from year to year for schools at the low end of the participation continuum).
We compared high schools using a scattergram in which we charted free and reduced lunch percentages on the "x" axis, and on the "y "axis we charted the mean score on the SAT. We looked at the average composite score, and scores for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW) and Math. We use free and reduced lunch percentages as a variable because the SAT (and other norm-referenced assessments) are highly correlated with poverty.

What we did not consider was the percentage of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students at the high school. This is important to note, because a few high schools have high percentages of LEP students. As you may know, Borah High School has the largest percentage of LEP students in the state among sizable high schools. Because they are still learning the English language, and because the SAT assesses some sophisticated concepts which require high-level reading skills, most LEP students struggle with the SAT. This artificially deflates average scores at those high schools. Conversely, most northern Idaho high schools have few, if any, LEP students.

Several other large high schools have significant percentages of LEP students - Nampa - 7%, Declo (Cassia Cty) - 6.6%, Caldwell - 6.6%, and Centennial (West Ada) - 6.4%, 

Composite Score Performance

As you may know, we really like scattergrams, because they allow us to look at data and consider it in light of the effect of another variable. We also typically add a trendline to give us an indication of how schools are doing compared to the state average and overall trends. Since the SAT is highly correlated with poverty, you see a negative trendline - in general, higher poverty schools do less well on the SAT.

Traditionally, Boise, Moscow, Timberline, Sandpoint, Century, and Madison have performed well on the SAT, and this year was no exception, though Boise's performance was especially impressive in 2017. The surprises in composite performance are likely Capital, which performed well above expectations, and Idaho Virtual Academy. which does well in ERW, and not as well in math. The two Vallivue high schools, Vallivue and Ridgevue, performed well for their demographic, and though Caldwell's raw average score is below most, the high school is an outlier demographically, and actually did very well on the SAT considering its free and reduced population.

Note that Borah and Declo, schools with large LEP populations, performed above expectations even as most of their LEP students were included in testing.

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing

On the ERW subtest, the landscape is very similar to what the composite chart shows. As you can see, Idaho Virtual Academy is one of the top performers in ERW, considering the online school's demographics. 


The SAT math subtest drives the "college readiness" percentage calculated by the College Board (parent company of the SAT), because scores are quite a bit lower than on the ERW subtest, and the cutoff score for "readiness" is higher.

On the math subtest, the usual high performers are joined by a few schools that exceed expectations: Coeur d'Alene, Lakeland, Kimberly, Shelley, Emmett, and Burley.  Caldwell and Boise exceeded expectations by a wide margin on the math subtest, as well.

It's interesting to look at these data and think about what schools like Century, Capital, and Twin Falls are doing in Math and ERW that other schools which perform less well could learn from. Since the College Board provides an item analysis and releases the test annually, a statewide analysis of skills would likely reveal that performance gaps exist because particular concepts are not learned as well by students in some high schools. What a valuable learning tool that would be, if the State Department chose to use the information to assist districts and teachers.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017


The results of a school calendar poll administered last month show 85% of Boise District patrons and staff in favor of a proposal in which first semester would end prior to the Winter Holiday Break and the school year would end the weekend before the Memorial Day holiday. If implemented, the new school calendar would go into effect for the 2018-19 school year.

To date, there have been 4,991 responses to the survey. 1,706 came from Boise District staff, and 3,285 were from patrons and parents. 87% of patron/parent responses were in favor of the change, while 83% of staff responses were affirmative.

Here is the prologue to the survey, intended to provide information about the proposed calendar change:

With a focus on student achievement, the Boise School District's Calendar Committee is considering modifying the 2018-2019 calendar to end the First Semester prior to the Winter Holiday Break, which will result in ending the school year before the Memorial Day weekend - the last week of May.

Currently, First Semester ends about two weeks after Winter Break and secondary students spend that 'break' studying and preparing for their final exams.  The school year currently ends after Memorial Day in June.  

Making the shift to the new calendar for the 2018-2019 School Year will:
* Allow students and teachers to finish the First Semester before, rather than after, the Winter Holiday Break.
* Allow secondary students to take End of Course Assessments prior to their Winter Holiday Break, reducing the potential that students will forget the content that they learned over the course of the First Semester and prevent students from having to spend the Winter Holiday Break studying or completing projects.
* Allow students to rest during the Winter Holiday Break and not worry about studying for finals or completing projects that would be due at the end of the semester.
* Allow all students to get a fresh start for second semester after the Winter Holiday Break.
* Allow students to have more days of instruction before standardized and Advanced Placement testing occurs in the spring.
* Mirror what is done at most colleges and universities with first semester ending before Winter Holiday Break and second semester starting after.
* Allow teachers to be more efficient with instruction preventing the need in January to reteach material due to the current holiday break between instruction and finals.
* Eliminate days from the District Calendar that traditionally have poor attendance which impacts the amount of funding the District receives from the State for instructional purposes.
* With final exams being given before Winter Holiday Break, rigorous instruction will occur right up until break.
* Allow teachers to complete grades and report cards prior to the Winter Holiday Break by giving them two half days in December.  

2018-19 Proposed School Schedule (The length of the school year would remain the same and students would have the same number of days of vacation):
     * August 9:Teachers on duty 
     * August 15:  First day of school  
     * October 12:  End of 1st Quarter
     * November 19 - 23: Thanksgiving Week Off
     * December 19, 20, 21:  Secondary End of Semester Testing
     * December 21: End of 1st Semester (Early Release - Winter Holiday Break Begins)
     * December 24-January 4: Winter Holiday Break (2 Full Weeks)
     * March 15: End of 3rd quarter
     * March 18-22: Spring Break
     * May 24: Last Day of School (Early Release prior to Memorial Day) 

If the proposed calendar were implemented, the summer of 2018 would be shorter than normal, since school would let out under the old calendar on June 1, 2018 and begin under the new calendar on August 15. However, the last day of school in 2018 would be May 24, the Friday prior to Memorial Day, about a week earlier than under the old calendar.

The new calendar would maintain Thanksgiving week and Spring Break as a week off from school, and the Winter Holiday Break would remain two weeks, as was the case in the old calendar.

Survey Responses - Statistical Breakdown

Here is a summary of the breakdown of responses on the calendar survey:

As you can see, there was overwhelming support for the calendar change from every subgroup surveyed.  The lowest degree of support came from elementary staff, and most of the "No" responses in that group revolved around starting school on August 15 (staff would report for duty on August 9). It seems logical that secondary staff would have heightened interest in the calendar change, since semester tests now occur two weeks after students get back from the Holiday Break. 

Tallies of responses with comments (where applicable) are available for staff and for parents and community.

The Board of Trustees will consider the 2018-19 calendar in October of 2017. Prior to their consideration, District officials will hold Focus Groups for students, staff, and parents to ascertain any concerns with particular elements of the calendar, and meet with principals and other staff to review particulars of the proposed calendar. District and Boise Education Association negotiations team members will also meet about the proposed calendar. Public comment will be welcomed at Board meetings preceding approval-disapproval of the proposed calendar.

Monday, June 5, 2017


In the second year of statewide administration of the "new" SAT, Boise District average scores improved over 2016.

The "new" SAT, which is aligned with the Common Core and reverts back to a two subtest exam with a total possible score of 1600, was introduced last year and provides information for improvement of instruction through provision of an item analysis and individual question analysis. District teachers have made use of the results to analyze student performance on specific skills.


It is important first to have a look at demographics. Free/reduced lunch percentages are our proxy for poverty levels. SAT performance is reflective of poverty, as a general rule. But we also need to consider the percentage of students who are classified as "Limited English" or "English Learners" since the Boise District has a relatively high percentage of students who are learning English (and the highest percentage of refugee students in the state of Idaho).

In Boise, the "Language Learner" category is especially important when looking at high schools. Borah High School is the District's "newcomer" school, where our refugee students who are new to the country attend.

As you can see, the Boise District's percentage of FRL high school students is lower than that of the state, but two high schools (Borah and Capital) are higher. However, the percentage of District "Language Learners" is about double that of the state, and Borah is about four times higher.

Our "Language Learners" do very well after high school, with a high percentage going on to college (especially those who are part of the AVID program). But as you might expect, it takes a while to pick up the English language, which is especially true when you're using a test like the SAT, which uses literary passages and pieces from content areas such as science and social studies as the sources for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW ) comprehension and analysis questions. Math, which is thought of as the "universal language" by some, is also difficult when all of the problems are story problems.


The SAT now has two subtests, ERW and Math. Each is scored on a 200-800 scale, so the top possible score is 1600.

As you can see, the District average total score increased by 14 points, while the state average remained the same as in 2016. Boise High had the largest growth in average total score, increasing by 26 points. Borah and Capital were up by 9 and 7 respectively, and the Timberline average score dropped by 2 points.

Here are the average subtest scores by high schools and for the District and Idaho:


According to the College Board:

"The college and career readiness benchmarks for the new SAT predict a 75 percent likelihood of achieving at least a C in a set of first-semester, credit-bearing college courses. The benchmarks are set at the section level, so there is a benchmark for Evidence-Based
Reading and Writing and a benchmark for Math."

The SAT benchmark scores for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW) and Math are 480 and 530, respectively. 

Note that the percentage of students meeting the Math benchmark drives the percentage meeting both benchmark scores. Most of the time, if a student met the benchmark math score, he/she also met the benchmark in ERW. The District-wide percentage meeting benchmark is much higher than that of the state of Idaho in ERW (+10%), Math (+13%), and in the percentage that met both standards (+13%).

More to come soon as statewide results on the SAT are released in the next couple of weeks.

Monday, May 29, 2017


As we noted in December, it's the 10-year anniversary of the Boise District's AVID program.Here's a spring update on the program . 

If you are not familiar with AVID, here's a brief description:


AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a program that began in San Diego, California back in the early 70's. Its mission is to "close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society."

When current Owyhee Elementary Principal Dr. Stacie Curry Became principal at Fairmont Junior High via a California district, she shared her experiences with AVID in her home district and asked if she might start a program at Fairmont. 

In the first year, 85 7th and 8th grade Fairmont students enrolled in the program; those 8th graders later became the first AVID graduating class at Capital High School. Today, the AVID program serves over 1300 students, and we have AVID students at every junior high and high school in the Boise District.

What's also encouraging is that other districts are seeing the value of AVID. Vallivue has been at it a while, and the district is just beginning to see its first AVID graduates. Emmett and Mt. Home have fledgling program, and West Ada is getting started with programs for students at Mt. View and Meridian High Schools.


Of course, the proof is in the college-going results, because the goal of AVID is that many students who might not have been college-bound a few years ago not only attend, but show persistence in working toward a degree.

The most recent college-going percentage for the state of Idaho was 52% for the class of 2014.  As you can see from the chart, the Boise District rate for classes of 2011-2016 was 60%, and the AVID rate of college-going was 77%.

As for persistence, 55% of Boise District high school grads in the classes of 2011-16 are either still in college or have graduated. For AVID high school graduates, the percentage is 64%.

If we take a look at only AVID high school graduates who went on to college, 84% are still enrolled in college or have graduated.


AVID students continue to attend mostly in-state colleges, which is to be expected.

In fact, 81% of AVID students attend Boise State University, College of Western Idaho, University of Idaho, Idaho State University, and the College of Idaho. 

However, students from the AVID program continue to find opportunities out of state, as well. With the class of 2016 alone, AVID students are attending the University of Southern California, Baylor University (TX), George Fox University (OR), Northern Arizona University (AZ), and the University of Utah.