Monday, January 28, 2019



Shortly before winter break, Boise District officials met with legislators to preview our priorities for the 2019 legislative session. At one point, we began to speak about our goal of keeping the Career Ladder in place so that we would have a reliable, consistent source of funding with which to increase teacher salaries.

Then came the question: "Why should we provide more money for salaries when there has been no progress on student achievement?"

We responded that the scores on the SBAC have remained flat across the multi-state consortium, and that perhaps that says more about the test than about student achievement. In fact, in various locations, educators and politicians have called for an end to statewide standardized testing, and critics have argued that the test itself is broken, while SBAC promoters argue that the test is valid. High opt-out rates have become more and more common, as parents and students question the value of the tests.

From the back of the room came the muttered comment, "Excuses, excuses. All we hear are excuses."

There ensued a discussion of what the test scores mean and why they should/should not be used as an indicator for teacher pay raises. The discussion continued around the topics of "achievement" and "growth" measures associated with the test, and that neither show evidence of progress.


One problem with the standardized testing we do in Idaho and in other states is that there is no way to show a meaningful comparison that people understand. When we say that 56% of students were proficient last year and 58% are this year, it really doesn't tell us much about what improvement was made, no matter the subject. To do so, we have to be more specific, and give examples. But for the SBAC, neither teachers nor administrators are allowed to see the questions that are asked of our students.

The Boise District has given "End of Course" examinations, which are really "common finals" to students since 2001. They typically count as 10% of the student's semester grade and give us a gauge of how effectively the curriculum was taught and learned.

But the "EOC" tests also allow us to examine performance across the district or by school on individual items or content areas on a particular test. For years, we have used the assessments to decide on curricular modifications, areas that need more focus, or areas that are covered very well in a particular course.

But what we have never done in the past is to use "Pre/Post" assessments to ascertain the progress made by students on course content. This winter/spring semester, we will do so, giving U.S History 11 assessments to students in Caldwell, Vallivue, Kuna, and Boise to see what kind of progress our kids are making on learning important concepts.


We already know how our kids are doing on final EOC tests in a number of areas. Here are some examples from EOC's given at the end of the first semester in December, 2018.

From the US History 11, Semester 1 Exam:

Certainly, we want our students to know the effect of the Jim Crow laws that emerged following the Civil War. And on the final exam  in the first semester of U.S History, 87% of students correctly answered this question.

This example is from the General Biology first semester end of course exam. In  this case, 90% of students correctly answered "b.". 


As we noted above, we have not previously done a pre/post test with our EOC's, so we are happy to join with several other districts to show the progress our students make.

This also gives us a chance to look at the questions on our test and see if there are some that show us high levels of previous learning. When we pre-tested the U.S. History 11 second semester EOC, we found that there were a few questions in this category.

On the pretest for US History 11, second semester, 78% of students correctly answered "c" for this question. Incorrect answers were spread among the three alternatives relatively evenly. It was gratifying to see that so many students possessed at least some prior knowledge in this area.

Seventy percent (70%) of students correctly answered "a"  for this question about the confrontation that had the world on edge in 1962. Not bad for the pretest.

For most questions, much smaller percentages of students could correctly answer the pretest questions, as you might expect. For example, only 23% of students answered the following question correctly ("a"), and the largest percentage of kids thought that "c" was the right choice. We thought more students might know this one, as the images from Kent State are seared in our memories, but obviously students need some background on this era.

 And, on a question to which 60's music aficionados would think everyone should know:

fewer than half (47%) knew the name of the concert at Yasgur's Farm.

So this will be our first try at measuring student growth on an end of course examination. We will report back at the end of the semester on the progress our students have made on the content of US History 11. As we see meaningful results, we'll look at expanding our use of pre-post on our end of course exams.