Thursday, October 24, 2019


A record number of Boise students took a record number of Advanced Placement exams in 2019. And the newest growth in the program came partially because more freshmen took exams than over before. 

District Exams and Participation

2718 Boise District students took exams in 2019, eclipsing the old record of 2365 set...last year, as the program continues to grow. Those students took 5150 Advanced Placement exams, surpassing last year's total of 4806.

Several years ago, the District began its plan to offer some Advanced Placement classes to freshmen and sophomores, which has resulted in much more AP World History participation among sophs, for example. We also began to offer AP Human Geography to 9th graders. Those offerings have been expanded to all junior high schools, resulting in a jump from 61 AP Human Geography exam 9th grade participants last year to 232 this year. AP participation by 9th graders this year represented 9% of total participation, compared to 3% just last year.

High School Exams and Participation

Though each of our 4 comprehensive high schools has made substantial growth in the number of exams given, Timberline High School's growth has been remarkable. Ten years ago, Timberline, Borah, and Capital gave about the same number of exams. In 2019, Timberline's exams numbers have surpassed those given at Boise High.

AP student participation at Borah and Capital has more than doubled since 2009, and it's grown by 50% at Boise. At Timberline, student participation in the AP exam program has more than tripled in the past ten years. Wow.

Exam Popularity

Advanced Placement English Language, the AP course that satisfies the 11th grade English graduation requirement, has long been the most popular AP course in the Boise District. But AP Human Geography, the course taken by all of those 9th graders and a bunch of sophs, is now second in popularity.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Idaho's 2019 School Day SAT results were released in late June, and we were able to procure statewide results by high school and district soon thereafter. The vast majority of Idaho's 11th graders take the SAT on a given day in April each year. Every Idaho student is required to have taken a college entrance exam in order to graduate.

What follows in this post is an analysis of the results, considering free/reduced lunch percentages as one axis of our SAT comparison, and scale scores for math and ERW as the other.

Here are some important factors to consider as you look at the results:

1) Year over year comparisons of scores on the SAT are often made. It's important to understand that those comparisons are made among different groups of students - each is a distinct group of 11th graders. 

2) Though most students take the SAT on the School Day exam date, some do not. If they have already taken or plan to take another exam such as the ACT, they do not have to take the School Day exam. So, even though percentages of students taking the exam are high, they may vary from school to school and from year to year. And a few schools prefer the ACT and de-emphasize the School Day SAT. That's why we check junior class enrollment and exams given each year, and leave out of the comparison schools that test fewer than 90% of their juniors.

3) It's tempting to look at very high scores for small schools, pronounce their performance as "greatly improved", and expound on what they did last year to improve their performance, even though the "growth" could be due to one or two high-scoring students, and scores will likely decline the next year because those students are not taking the test. We usually limit our comparison to schools with 75 or more juniors tested. 

Idaho Ed News did a story this year about Kootenai High School's remarkable SAT scores, which improved by almost 150 points over last year. Problem is, the school tested only 12 students this year and 9 the year before. And, in fact, scores at Kootenai High declined substantially (by almost 80 points) from 2017 to 2018, before the big increase.

Kootenai most assuredly does an awesome job with preparing its kids for college. But IEN has done this before in a 2014 story of Kootenai's progress on the SAT.

The Scores

SAT scores, along with SBAC, are notoriously highly correlated with poverty. So the higher a school's poverty level, as measured by free/reduced lunch percentages, the lower the SAT scores, typically. What we look for are scores that are higher than might be expected. 

As noted above, we use only scores from high schools that tested 75 students, AND tested 90% or more of juniors enrolled at the school. So, here are the scores, in context:


Boise, Timberline, Madison, McCall - these are schools that outperform SAT expectations each year, even considering their demographics. It's not surprising, though, considering that these schools lead the state in Advanced Placement (a College Board product, as is the SAT) exam participants each year, along with Century of Pocatello. On the other hand, Marsh Valley (a smaller district near Poky), Fruitland, Twin Falls, and Skyview had higher scores than predicted, as well. And each year, Caldwell's scores are surprising. considering the demographics of the high school.


In SAT Math, it;s almost the same story. But note that Timberlake (a northern Idaho high school in Spirit Lake), Borah, and Coeur d'Alene have higher scores than we might predict. And Caldwell's math SAT scores, considering the expectations and their demographics, might just be the best in the state. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019


Jay Mathews is an education columnist for the Washington Post. He's published the Challenge Index since 1998, first under the umbrella of Newsweek Magazine and then for the Washington Post. This year, he assembled the index on his own, and published it in May.

The Index is a ranking system that uses a simple formula to achieve an indicator of rigor in a high school system. Take the number of Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams and divide by the number of on-time graduating seniors at the high school. If the ratio is greater than 1, the schools is eligible 

Each of the Boise District's 4 comprehensive high schools have been ranked on the Challenge Index for 11 consecutive years. Boise and Timberline have been ranked for a longer period of time, Boise since 1998 (the inception of the list) and Timberline since 2002.

Charters and Private Schools

Mathews takes data from Charter and Private Schools and includes them in the index. For the 2019 rankings, North Star Charter (116) Riverstone (Private, 5.7), and Coeur d'Alene Charter (2.6) were included on the list. 

Comprehensive High Schools

Here are the rankings for the Idaho comprehensive high schools included on the 2019 list:

Vallivue High School has made the list for a number of years. The district's new high school, Ridgevue, has joined Vallivue on the list. It's impressive that both of these schools, with half their students qualifying for free/reduced lunch, give so many exams.

Participation in Mathew's Challenge Index wad won this year. It appears to have been less known than in previous years, perhaps because it was not sponsored by the Post. In past years, Century High School in Pocatello has been a top performer. 

Still, over 2,500 high schools were listed, so we can make a few comparisons.

In Washington, the Bellevue high schools continue their stellar performance in the index, with all comprehensive high schools ranked in the top 250 in the country. Sammamish High School, with 35% free/reduced lunch, gave over 5 exams per graduating senior - amazing. Bellevue remains a district with results that we aspire to in Boise.

Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane (2.6 ratio, 35% frl), Edmonds Woodway High School in Edmonds (2.1, 30%), and Union High School in Camas, WA (2.2, 25%) had results similar to those of Borah and Capital.

We will provide more information on Advanced Placement results in Boise and around Idaho in the next few posts.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019


Last month, Idaho Education News published a k-12 poverty index. Well, it was really a ranking of schools they developed using State Department of Education ESSA data, which were all highly correlated with poverty.

Everyone loves a ranking system. It's interesting to see where businesses or football teams or public schools line up in the rankings. With schools, though, you get what you get, and kids are not widgets. We don't throw out those that don't fit, who have special needs or don't speak the language. We educate them all, so it's important to consider the factors that affect their education.

And these factors make it necessary to get creative to serve kids' needs. Schools with high populations of free/reduced and/or Limited English students desperately need services that will put them on a more level playing field with Longfellow in Boise or Paramount in West Ada, such as:

  • Early learning services such as pre-k and full day kindergarten.
  • Community Schools services that provide wrap-around services so kids can come to school ready to learn.
  • College-ready programs such as AVID (Boise, Mt. Home, and Vallivue) and P-16 (Caldwell) that give kids the tools they need to navigate the college process and the confidence they must have to succeed.
  • Scholarship programs established with benefactors from the business world to help them afford the costs of post-secondary.
These programs will go a lot further in improving success and "Go-on" rates for our kids than a list contrived to congratulate some districts and schools and punish others based on their poverty levels.

However, the success of a school’s more creative approaches to learning requires much more effort, understanding and context.

In compiling their list, IEN doubled-down on the data, using data from the Idaho Department of Education's 2018 ESSA plan calculations, combining composite values of all schools, elementary, secondary, alternative, and other configurations into a big list to show which schools are the top (and bottom) "performers". These composites are basically aggregate measures of status and growth on the SBAC, with grad rates and a couple of other measures thrown in.

After IEN posted their rankings, they were besieged with comments from those who wished to critique their methodology, which clearly had some issues. But that's not really the point. Every measure used by the SDE as part of its plan was highly correlated with poverty. So why not just use poverty levels for the rankings?

We looked at IEN's lowest and highest ranked schools, adding free/reduced lunch status and LEP population percentages as factors to consider, in order to add some context to the rankings, and to illustrate just how closely they are related to free/reduced lunch and Limited English populations at the schools.

The IEN Elementary Schools

Here are bottom elementary schools in the state, as ranked by IEN.

The more you look at these data, the more you understand that the information used by IEN for their rankings really does reflect poverty and language barriers more than anything else. There are some anomalies, such as Webster in Lewiston and Teed in Kuna; otherwise, the data show that these schools serve impoverished communities around the state of Idaho.

Among the very highest IEN-ranked elementary schools, we see names that have been high SBAC performers since the test was initiated in Idaho - those with low free/reduced lunch percentages and few Limited English students. These schools should perform well on this test, which favors students with a wealth of experience.

In the next group of elementary schools from the IEN rankings, we see more of the same. A number of schools listed here have little diversity, and low levels of poverty and Limited English. 

There are a few exceptions here, though. Rulon Ellis Elementary in Pocatello, Discovery in Bonneville, Chief Joseph in West Ada, and Westside in Idaho Falls all have FRL percentages closer to the state average, and Chief Joseph and Westside have higher LEP percentages. These are  schools at which we should look for example of high achievement with challenged populations.
The IEN Junior Highs/Middle Schools

At the middle school/junior high level, the picture is much the same. Check out the lowest ranked schools, and you'll see:

Most of these middle level schools have very high percentages of free/reduced lunch. The two that have lower percentages have large numbers of Limited English students.

For the most part, the highest ranked middle level schools are the opposite in configuration.

As you might suspect, the high school data show the same patterns. Idaho Ed News has effectively created an index of school poverty, with very few exceptions. 

It's kind of like looking at the SAT data without a filter. Yes, Boise, Madison, Timberline, and McCall all do well. They should, and as a matter of fact they exceed expectations in their performance. But when you examine the data considering the free/reduced lunch data, you find that the schools with the best performance are...Caldwell and Fruitland.

With the state’s so-called accountability system finally falling into place, as well as the Governor’s welcomed emphasis on literacy, it will be more important than ever to cast a critical eye toward any seemingly simple “ranking” of schools. Behind every measurement focused on first and worst there are real students facing real barriers to learning and succeeding. Let’s not lose sight of that.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


The Brookings Institution, a nationally renowned research entity, published an interesting study in June. The researchers took a look at four cities, Nashville, Tennessee, South Bend, Indiana, St. Louis, Missouri, and Boise. They analyzed a number of factors contributing to economic competitiveness. We just want to focus on a couple of the findings in the report, and look at the data surrounding those findings.

While Brookings researchers looked at Boise's possibilities and challenges, they used statewide data to make their conclusions. They made this statement about the situation, referring to Boise's strong tech sector and referencing a study done by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce:

"By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require more than a high school diploma. This statistic for the average place belies the requirements of hightech clusters. Cities with comparative advantages in tech will require closer to 80 percent of their workers to have some postsecondary training."

We wanted to break down the data and see how they looked when we did the statewide analysis by high school. For that analysis, we relied on the Office of the State Board of Education, which provided us data about the percentage of kids who had completed "some college" by a certain date.

Specifically, the SBOE provided us information about the percentage of students from the class of 2014 who had completed "some college" three years after graduation from high school. Then we were able to estimate the additional percentage who would complete some college after six years, using data from previous classes. Typically, six to seven percent additional students attend "some college" between year four and year six after high school graduation.

Here are some summary slides portraying what we found in the data:

So the statewide percentage of students with some college, even considering the typical additional percentage from year 4 to year 6 is well below what is described in the Brookings study as necessary to support a tech environment, at around 70%.

But this the statewide analysis. Is the picture different when we look at Boise-area high schools?

There are a couple of conclusions we can draw about the above data:

1) We have suspected that "Go On" rates are related to poverty. Indeed, that's the case with Boise-area schools (as it is across the state). 

2) The overall total for Boise-area schools for the class of 2014 likely will exceed 80% after six years have passed post-high school, meeting the criteria stated by Brookings . Though the statewide totals were far lower,  the free/reduced percentages were higher for the state, as well.

There were large high schools outside the Boise area that had high "Go On" percentages for the class of 2014,  as well: Sandpoint (73%), Coeur d'Alene (72%) and Hillcrest of Idaho Falls (72%) were among them. None, however, were close to Boise, Timberline, Eagle, or Mountain View with the exceptions of Twin Falls (76%) , Kimberly (a suburban community near Twin Falls) (78%), and Moscow (78%), all of which have relatively low percentages of free/reduced lunch.

There are statewide high schools that had far lower percentages, as well: Vallivue (58%), Columbia (55%), Caldwell (61%), Pocatello (52%), Mt. Home (59%), Minico (59%), Bonners Ferry (50%) and Snake River (51%) were among them. No surprise - All have relatively high percentages of free/reduced lunch.

Here's a statewide picture of large high schools from the class of 2014:

Interestingly, one of the data points that stands out here is Parma, which had a "Go On" percentage in the mid-70's with 54% free/reduced lunch, well above the state average.

As we noted in 2014, Parma has an ongoing scholarship program sponsored by a district benefactor which contributes to its high "Go On" rate:
"When asked about Parma's high college-going rates, Superintendent Jim Norton wrote:
"The Bruce Mitchell scholarships play a large role in why Parma grads go on. There is a Foundation Board that manages and oversees the program. Nothing is managed by the District other than coordinating meetings and interviews."
Bruce Mitchell was a Parma grad who worked for Idaho Power as an Electrical Engineer. He initiated the scholarship in 1991, when one award was given (the only one Mitchell saw awarded). As of 2013, 465 Parma students have received scholarships (about 70 students graduate from PHS each year), and over $3 million has been awarded in total. 100 Parma grads are currently being supported by scholarships, which begin in freshman year with $2000, and grow by $500 a year.
"The entire student body and the community takes part in an assembly to honor the Bruce Mitchell Scholarship winners. It is a big deal to students to be recognized at this assembly. A Community Award winner is also recognized."
The truth of the matter is that   programs like AVID, which we wrote about in June, have a great success rate, but part of that success is due to the financial support of generous folks in the community who help our AVID grads succeed with their financial support. As an example, Bev and George Harad have been important benefactors who fund scholarships every year for our AVID kids. 

We agree with many of the conclusions in the Brookings study, especially including the support voiced for statewide early childhood programs. However, as shown above, post-secondary affordability remains an important issue for Idaho students, one that can only be ameliorated by support for college attendance. This is where the real discussion must take place, or we will continue to have just a few schools that meet the criteria set by the Brookings research. How can we, as a state, support our kids in going on?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


We wrote a few weeks ago about the issues with using a standardized test like the SBAC to evaluate the academic progress we make with our students how a gain of a percentage point or two with proficiency rates tells us nothing about what our kids are learning. In fact, it was only last year that few if any of the SBAC consortium states made any gains at all! In state after state, reports of nonexistent student growth provided cause for concern. The reality is that SBAC scores are reflective of poverty and other community factors as much as anything, and can be predicted without giving the test in some cases.

So, is there a way to accurately reflect growth in student performance that will show us whether students have learned the content they have have been taught?

Summary Data

Fortunately, the answer is unequivocally YES, if we measure what is being taught in our classrooms by our teachers to our students. We did that with pre-post assessments in our United States History 11 course during the second semester of the 2018-19 school year. 

In the second semester pre-test, 140 of 188 students (74%) scored less than 50%, while only 5 scored greater than 70%. Clearly, then, most students did not have a good handle on the content of the second semester - and that's what we would expect. 

On the post-test, however, the results were almost completely the reverse. 140 students  (74%) answered 70% or more of the test questions correctly, while only 7% (12 students) correctly answered fewer than 50% of the questions. That's pretty impressive, and evidence that our teachers are doing a great job teaching the content and their students. 

Individual Items/Concepts

But let's look more closely at some examples of content that is crucial to understanding the history of our country, and how our students did on questions measuring that knowledge.

Here's Question 26 from the test.

Kind of an important concept for kids to understand, right? So important, in fact, that "McCarthyism" and "Red Scare" are widely understood as critical markers in the history of our country.

Back in January, however, few of our U.S. History students knew about the Wisconsin Senator and his campaign against "suspected" Communists:

In fact, as many students thought McCarthy probably helped the Soviets (choices A and B) as thought he was "red-baiting"(choice C).

In May on the post-test, students demonstrated their knowledge convincingly.

Here is another example of student progress on the End of Course U.S. History assessment:

In January, 38% of students answered the Watergate questions correctly. By May, the percentage of correct answers was 81. Almost as many students thought that "checks and balances" were a casualty of the Watergate scandal - certainly that system suffered, but public confidence was forever changed.

One of the advantages for teachers of giving a pre-post test and seeing the results in an item analysis is that they can see where gaps in student learning exist. For example, this question:

On the pre-test, 32% of students correctly identified "C" as the answer to question 27, and student, 30% chose "B", and 20% each chose the other options.

On the post-test, 61% of students chose the correct answer, so double the percentage in January, but still relatively low. And 20% still identified "B" as the correct answer, giving teachers an opportunity for instruction about the era of the fifties in the future.

All in all, the pre-post testing opportunity provides us with evidence of the progress our students make during a semester or a year, and gives our teachers opportunities for instructional improvement. In some cases, it may also indicate that particular questions should be tweaked or rewritten.

It's vitally important to know how we are doing with content we are actually teaching to our students. This EOC assessment process is much more informative than the "mystery testing" we do with the SBAC, and more on target with instruction (and covers more instructional areas) than the SAT, though the SAT with its item analysis provides some valuable information about comparative student performance on math and language arts concepts.

The Boise District intends to expand its pre-post testing in the next few years. Stay tuned for posts about the progress we are making.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019


The Boise District's AVID program has a record of success that now extends over a decade. Here is an AVID update summarizing progress through the 2018-19 school year.

As you probably know as a reader of this blog, AVID is a program devoted to students from the "forgotten middle" - those kids who likely would not study at the post-secondary level without some sort of assistance. The AVID program provides that assistance through:
  1. Identification of prospective AVID students in 6th grade or earlier.
  2. Enrollment of those students in a "required AVID elective" beginning in 7th grade, which emphasizes:
    • development of study and note-taking skills
    • content knowledge assistance through tutorials
    • growth in the value of "Going On" to post-secondary studies
  3. Enrollment in Accelerated Math and Reading classes beginning in 7th grade
  4. In high school, enrollment in at least one Advanced Placement course
  5. Visits to a variety of post-secondary institutions during high school years
and many other activities devoted to increasing readiness for post-secondary enrollment.


Enrollment in the Boise District AVID program continues to grow.

In 2007-08, the second year of the AVID program, about 2% of District 7-12 graders were enrolled in AVID. As of 2018-19, over 11% of Boise District secondary students are enrolled.

Direct College Entry (Fall after Graduation)

Though money for college continues to be an issue for most Idaho students, AVID graduates have searched for all available scholarships, with the help of Career Counselors at the high schools, and have visited many campuses as they prepare to enter post-secondary studies.

As you can see, in terms of college enrollment the semester after high school graduation, our AVID students far exceed the state average.The Boise District average for these years hovers around sixty percent, so these students attend college at a far higher rate than District students, as well.

College Choices - Direct Enrollment

Since money is such an issue for our AVID kids, most attend in-state colleges, and the most popular destination is Boise State University.

Seventy percent of Boise District AVID students enrolled at BSU (36%-163 students), the University of Idaho (16%-71), or the College of Western Idaho (18%-84 ). The two other public colleges that attract the most AVID students are Lewis Clark State College (3%-13 students) and Idaho State University (4%-18). The College of Idaho (4%-17) is an attractive affordable private college that is also popular among AVID students.

The other 20% of AVID college attendees enrolled at a variety of colleges around the country. Notably, students have enrolled at Northwest Nazarene University (6), Washington State University (4), the University of Southern California (2), Baylor University in Texas (2), Northern Arizona University (2), Pepperdine University (1), and the University of Utah (2).

College Degrees and Certificates

It's typically taking 5 or 6 years for AVID students (and other college students) to graduate from college, but that's understandable considering that 6-year grad rates for some Idaho colleges are fairly low. For example, the College of Idaho (61%) and University of Idaho (56%) have relatively high 6-year grad rates, Boise State University has made dramatic improvement in its rates, and stands at 42%, but Idaho State University and Lewis Clark State College are at 29%.

Among the 57 Bachelor's degrees earned by AVID students, 19 were in the Liberal Arts, and  11 each were in the fields of Business and STEM.

It's exciting to see the progress that our AVID students are making. We expect that in our next report, over 100 degrees and certificates will have been awarded, as classes advance in college toward a degree or certificate.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019


In the 1980's and 1990's, southeast Boise became the hub of growth in our city, and the former dairy and lumber center became subdivisions with names like Lakewood, Spring Meadow, River Run, and Columbia Village. 

As the growth continued, the original southeast Boise elementary schools, Campus (constructed 1953, sold to Boise State in 1990) and Garfield (1927) became overcrowded. 

Campus School at Boise State                             Garfield School, Boise Avenue and Broadway

Liberty School, just off Bergeson Street on Law, opened in 1984, and almost immediately was at capacity. By 1990, when White Pine Elementary opened, Liberty hosted over 1,000 southeast Boise students.

Liberty School

The architecture of Liberty was copied with minor revisions for a number of new schools built in the late twentieth century, including White Pine, and Cynthia Mann (1990). Riverside, (1992) and Horizon (1992).

As growth in the area continued to accelerate, Les Bois Junior High School was built in 1994 on the same plot of land as White Pine, and then converted into Timberline High School four years later, with a new Les Bois constructed in the Columbia Village subdivision near Micron Technology. The District also opened Trail Wind Elementary nearby in 1998, as the District's student enrollment crested 27,000 students for the first (and only, to this date) time.

Les Bois JH In Columbia Village                       Timberline HS (former  Les Bois JH) on Boise Ave

Elementary Schools

And then, as quickly as it grew, the District's student population began to decline, as significant numbers of Boise patrons moved west, to Meridian initially, and then to Kuna, Nampa, and Caldwell.

Southeast Boise's schools were among the most impacted in the District, and Liberty, White Pine, and Riverside, which were overflowing with enrollment just a few years earlier, were under-enrolled by the mid 2000's. Since then, enrollment at Liberty and White Pine has stabilized and grown a bit, and Riverside's enrollment is moving back toward its high point, as residential construction in Harris Ranch has taken off.

Junior High Schools

After a successful 2007 bond issue and a land deal with BSU, East Junior High was torn down and replaced by a new East in 2009.

Former East JH (1953) on Warm Springs.                    New East JH (2009) in Harris Ranch area

You can see the same enrollment pattern a few years later at Les Bois,

and at East.

As you can see, enrollment has recovered at both junior highs, after steep declines in the first decade of the new millennium. Projections show that southeast Boise junior high enrolment will likely stabilize in the next few years.

Timberline High School

The new wing opened this fall at Timberline has been put to good use, and Timberline's enrollment is still growing.

Timberline's enrollment is projected to grow to almost 1,500 students in the next few years, as the next few classes from East and Les Bois enter the school. 

Just a few years ago, Timberline and Meridian were the smallest 5A schools in the Southern Idaho Conference. Since then, enrollment at both schools has grown substantially, Skyview has become a 5A school, and Capital's enrollment has declined slightly.

Rocky Mountain and Mountain View in the West Ada District remain the largest schools in the conference, and even with the addition of the new Owyhee High School in a few years, West Ada's continued growth will assure large 5A schools.

As an aside, Skyview's status as a 5A school is interesting. There are now 3 4A schools that are larger than Skyview: Kuna (1176), Caldwell (1085), and Nampa (1078). While Skyview has seen some growth in the past few years, so have Caldwell and Kuna, and Vallivue, Ridgevue, and Middleton (all 4A schools) are growing rapidly as well.

Timberline's growth will put the school in the middle of the SIC pack in a couple of years, and could mean that the high school will become the largest of Boise's high schools.

The challenge for Boise District administrators and trustees will be planning for the anticipated growth in south Boise east of Cole Road, along the east Lake Hazel Road extension to Orchard Street, which could feature as many as 2,000 family residences in the next few years. 

For this post, we used 10-12 enrollment, since that's the configuration of Boise's high schools. The other SIC high schools are 9-12. The Idaho High School Activities Association uses 9-12 enrollment for classification purposes.