• Idaho’s plan is built on high-quality standards and assessments and a straightforward set of indicators, and the plan intends to celebrate its highest-performing schools. Notably, the state attempts to provide multiple avenues to success through both current performance and improvement over time.


  • Idaho appears to have invested considerable effort into its school improvement plan. The plan includes detailed descriptions of the types of resources that will be available to districts, such as an on-site review process and a comprehensive list of supports, but it will be up to districts to take advantage of them.




  • Idaho’s decision not to use a summative rating for schools, and the fact that schools will be held accountable for either achievement or growth on each indicator, could make it extremely challenging for parents to compare performance across schools. Moreover, Idaho’s chosen method for measuring growth does not actually track individual students over time, and a school could be given credit for making “growth” even if no individual students were actually making progress.


  • Idaho missed opportunities to broaden the lens of what makes for a successful school. For example, while Idaho will test students in science and pays for all high school students to take the SAT, it does not plan to add those results to its school rating system.


  • Finally, although the plan includes a comprehensive list of optional supports, it does not appear that Idaho will employ the kind of transformative interventions that are likely necessary to turn around the very lowest-performing schools.


Click through the tabs on the left to see how Idaho scored in each category.



While the state’s aspirations seem reasonable and attainable, Idaho’s approach to goals raises some concerns.


Idaho aims to reduce the percentage of students who are not proficient by 33 percent over six years. The state proposes the same methodology for English language proficiency. For graduation rates, Idaho aims to reduce non-graduates by 75 percent over six years, with a 95 percent target within six years. It applies the same methodologies to other groups of students, resulting in more ambitious goals for groups that are currently lower performing.


Absent historical data, it is unclear whether these goals are ambitious or attainable. The state neither provides historical performance on the state assessment nor ties its goals to an objective bar. The state also says it will disaggregate performance for individual subgroups of students, but it has only provided goals for a large combined group of “minority” students, rather than breaking out targets for individual groups, such as African-American or Latino students.



Idaho has a high-quality assessment system in grades 3-8 and 10, developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.


The Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) includes both interim and summative assessments using a computer-adaptive process that results in a coherent and comprehensive system of assessment. It has already passed federal standards for validity and reliability. To measure English language proficiency, Idaho uses the WIDA ACCESS test, which is a popular and high-quality choice.


At the high school level, the state also pays for every student to take the SAT, but does not include this as part of its accountability system (it uses only the 10th-grade state assessment). In addition, the state administers a science assessment in grades 5 and 7, but this is not included as part of accountability. Idaho could consider incorporating both the SAT and science assessments as a way to broaden the scope of its accountability system.


Idaho could strengthen its plan by providing more information about its alternate achievement standards and aligned assessments for students with the most severe cognitive disabilities, as well as ensuring that it has a process in place to meet the 1 percent cap on alternate assessments.



Idaho has chosen a straightforward list of indicators to include in its accountability system, but it’s unclear how those indicators will be measured and whether they are all valid, reliable, and comparable statewide.


Elementary and middle schools will be held accountable for student proficiency rates in English language arts and math, a measure of growth on those assessments, English language proficiency, and a student satisfaction and engagement survey. As discussed in more detail below, the “growth” measure Idaho is proposing does not actually measure individual student progress over time. And while Idaho’s student engagement survey may be useful as a diagnostic tool, it’s not clear from the information provided whether it has sufficient validity, reliability, and comparability to belong in a high-stakes accountability system.


At the high school level, Idaho is proposing a similar list of indicators: proficiency in reading and math, English language proficiency, four-year graduation rate, “growth” in graduation rate, and college- and career-readiness indicators. While this is a relatively straightforward list, it may pose some unintended consequences for schools. For example, the graduation rate “growth” indicator may disproportionately reward lower-performing schools, since it appears to be equally weighted with the four-year graduation rate.


Similarly, while it is encouraging to see Idaho reward high schools for students who demonstrate college and career readiness through participating in advanced opportunities, earning industry-recognized certification, and/or participation in recognized high school apprenticeship programs, it’s unclear how these variables will be defined or if they’re all equally rigorous. Additionally, the plan indicates the denominator for this variable will be graduating students, omitting students who did not graduate. Idaho’s plan would be stronger if the denominator was based on all students.



Idaho plans to measure student achievement as the percentage of students performing on grade level.


This is a clean, easy-to-understand measure of student achievement. However, Idaho’s proposed growth measure only tracks year-over-year changes at the school level. This method is susceptible to differences in the student population enrolled in a given school in a given year. As such, a school’s performance on the growth indicator could improve (or decline) simply because the population served by the school is changing.


Even if the state did have an individual growth model, the state’s methodology does not incentivize schools to care about both proficiency and growth.


Idaho is planning to give full weight in its school identification system to either proficiency or growth. That is, schools will be ranked on both their achievement and growth scores, and then the measure used for their accountability rating will be the higher of the two rankings. This is particularly problematic given the way Idaho has structured its growth measure, because a school could be given credit for making “growth” even if no individual students were actually making annual progress. The opposite is true as well—schools with a high proficiency rating could maintain a high score even if their students failed to make progress over time.



To consider the performance of subgroups, Idaho will identify any school with a subgroup gap of 35 percentage points as compared to their non-group peers.


However, it’s not clear if this comparison is within schools or a statewide comparison, and using gap closure as the definition runs the risk of keeping the bar low for historically underserved groups. Instead of setting the bar at a high level of achievement, it sets the bar based on comparison with their peers, who may not be achieving at high levels.


Idaho is planning to use a combined subgroup of “minority” students to run these calculations, and it has not provided a rationale for why it chose this 35 percent threshold. Similarly, the state will identify “additional targeted support” schools where any individual subgroup, on its own, would be identified for comprehensive support, but it has not yet provided data on how many schools this would capture.


Idaho has set its minimum n-size at 10 students, meaning any group with at least 10 students will be considered for accountability purposes.


The state provides helpful data showing why it made this decision. This allows the state to capture more subgroups for more data elements, and thus creates a more statistically sound identification system. Idaho is also planning to use three years of data, which will further boost the inclusion of subgroups and help make the system less subject to one-year swings.


Idaho has also placed a substantial weight—30 percent in elementary and 22.5 percent in high school—on the performance of English learners.


While the state’s desire to focus on English learners is understandable given their historically low achievement in Idaho, placing so much weight on this indicator could create perverse incentives. This is particularly problematic given that the state is still waiting on its latest results in order to finalize how the indicator would be measured or incorporated into the accountability system. Moreover, the state mentions just 6 percent of its students are English learners, and schools with concentrations of English learners will, in effect, have a very different accountability system than the majority of schools in the state.


Idaho’s approach to the 95 percent participation requirement is concerning.


If a school fails to meet the threshold in a given year, participation can also be calculated with a three-year average. Moreover, the sanction for not meeting the requirement—the development of an outreach plan—may be insufficient.



Idaho will identify “schools for improvement only if they are both the lowest performing in the state and not improving.”


Idaho will turn each of its variables into statewide rankings of both current-year performance and improvement over time, and then use only the higher of the two ranks. That is, if a school scores well overall, but exhibits low growth on the measure, it will get credit for its overall high score and not be penalized for a lack of growth. On the other end, a school with large improvements, but low absolute performance, will be scored based on its improvements.


Idaho has elected to use a dashboard rather than a summative rating, which will be difficult for parents to determine how a given school is performing, and how its performance compares with other schools’ performance.


Idaho should consider what steps it will take to ensure that the dashboards are parent-friendly and provide actionable information for all stakeholders. In addition, allowing schools to choose between either achievement or growth may run counter to ESSA, which requires states to design accountability systems that are comparable statewide.


Idaho’s plan for identifying schools for comprehensive support is based on a relative ranking of all schools across the state.


It will identify the bottom 5 percent of schools and will identify K-8, high schools, and alternative schools separately (which will protect against certain grade spans having systematically higher or lower scores). The state will also identify for comprehensive support high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent based on four-year cohort graduation rates, averaged over three years. Other than the graduation rate rule, schools will be ranked relative to one another, and it would be possible for a school to escape scrutiny simply because other schools perform worse.


Idaho’s approach to identifying schools with low-performing subgroups appears to be oriented around schools with large within-school gaps.


This method should help identify places with large within-school gaps, but it may not identify schools with lower overall performance and especially low-performing subgroups.



Idaho’s plan describes a comprehensive statewide system of supports for identified schools.


However, it’s not clear whether the list of supports will be sufficiently rigorous to turn around the lowest-performing schools. The plan includes detailed descriptions of the types of resources that will be available to districts, but it will be up to districts to take advantage of them.


All comprehensive improvement schools will conduct a needs assessment and develop an improvement plan based on the results.


Those plans must “address the why, who, what, when, and resource allocation for making improvement changes” and articulate short- and long-term goals. The plan must include external stakeholders in the development process and during implementation. Districts must also address how they will monitor and oversee the improvement plan’s implementation, as well as how its effectiveness will be evaluated.


For schools that fail to improve for three years after being flagged as in need of improvement, Idaho will conduct an on-site visit using a structured protocol that results in a set of recommendations. The state may also direct some of the district’s spending and assign a leadership coach to the school district. Idaho’s statewide system of support includes diagnostic needs assessments, school improvement coaching, mentoring and support for principals, training on the state’s content standards, support for English learners, and technical assistance on usage of school time and engagement with families and the community.


These first steps, particularly the on-site review and comprehensive supports, are likely necessary—but not sufficient—to turn around the lowest-performing schools and subgroups. Idaho mentions that its school improvement team will work with school districts to ensure their interventions are evidence-based, but it does not articulate what this would mean in practice.


The state plans to distribute the 7 percent of its Title I funds dedicated to school improvement through a formula.


This will limit the ability of the state to push districts toward more rigorous interventions. To further strengthen its plan, Idaho should indicate if and how it intends to provide direct student services using the optional 3 percent set-aside.



Idaho’s plan calls for a three-year timeline for identified schools.


Specifically, a school in support status can exit if (1) it no longer meets the criteria that resulted in initial identification, (2) it shows a “consistent growth trajectory,” and (3) it submits a written plan as to how the school will sustain success without additional funding. A school can exit early (but forfeit funds) if it is on track to hit its three-year target.


The state’s relative ranking system—and lack of an objective bar—raises concern.


A school that performs marginally better than those in the state’s bottom 5 percent could lose necessary attention and supports to be able to escape scrutiny. Instead, Idaho could strengthen its plan by requiring each low-performing school to meet a rigorous, objective bar, such as meeting its interim goals for two-to-three years, before exiting to ensure that schools do not bounce in and out of status.



The state deserves credit for embedding stakeholder feedback in its school improvement planning processes.


Idaho’s plan often cites stakeholder engagement and buy-in in the initial development, including how to define an appropriate subgroup size, how to set performance targets, and in its school identification approach. Districts with low-performing schools must include the principal, teachers, and parents, in the development and implementation of school improvement plans. Additionally, districts must articulate how they plan to monitor and oversee the plan’s implementation, and how they will evaluate the effectiveness of the plan over time.


However, it’s not entirely clear who the state consulted in the plan-writing process or what happens moving forward with regard to learning and adjusting as the plan is implemented.


At the state level, while Idaho is transitioning to more of a hands-off approach toward schools, it will be important for the state to remain vigilant in monitoring and supporting the schools that have historically struggled. It would be helpful for the state to develop a list of key stakeholder groups and organizations that can be part of an ongoing feedback cycle and inform implementation of this plan

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