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.